WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women’s perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.


A World AIDS Day Hero: Beatrice Achieng Nas

bachiengnasA World AIDS Day Hero: Beatrice Achieng Nas

December 1st is World AIDS Day. This year, I’d like to shine the light on someone whose work I really admire, someone who is dedicating her life to serving and lifting up many children and families who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. I’m talking about Beatrice Achieng Nas, founder-director of Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation (PCEF), and the Rural Girl Child Mentorship Project (RGCM). I first met Beatrice when she came to the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) from her native Uganda as an IREX Community Solutions Fellow (CSF). CSF fellows are selected to come to the United States from developing countries [WC] for showing exceptional promise as community leaders. In the U.S., they train with host institutions to increase their leadership and management experience so that they can carry it back to their home countries and power up their own initiatives. Before coming here, Beatrice had already been developing both PCEF and RGCM Uganda for a few years, but both could be considered fledgling initiatives at that time. While with us at WCW, she studied women’s NGO management, which included mentoring in the areas of communications, donor relations, and grant writing, as well as research basics, program evaluation, and social-emotional learning facilitation. I’m proud to say she also taught us a few things, especially about mobilizing people around a cause!

Back in Uganda, Beatrice runs an organization to empower academically talented girls from rural communities by helping them gain admittance to and stay in good secondary schools, many of which are far from home. Many of these girls are from families that have been affected by HIV/AIDS. In some cases, one or both parents have died from the disease. In other cases, siblings have died from the disease, leaving children to be cared for by other family members, even the by girls themselves. In all cases, they live in communities where far too many people have died from AIDS. In fact, Beatrice herself lost seven of nine siblings to HIV/AIDS, and she and her mother have been caring for all of her nieces and nephews ever since. When Beatrice was growing up, some missionaries from Kentucky came through her village and noticed her--they noticed that she was smart, industrious, kind, and capable. At the time, she was working as a village barmaid, bringing in the only income her family had. These missionaries decided then and there to pay for BlogPullQuote12.1.15Beatrice’s education. As a result, Beatrice made it all the way to Makerere University, the top university in Uganda and one of the leading universities in Africa, where she majored in information technology. Her college degree led to some good positions with, first, a bank, and later an international NGO, but after working in these places for a while, Beatrice realized she could do much more on her own. That’s when she founded PCEF and RGMC.

Beatrice’s work requires her to raise funds from donors from around the world in the form of sponsorships for her students and gifts to support the organization’s many community projects. One thing I really love about Beatrice’s model of change is the fact that she understands that, to help her girls, she must also help the families of her girls and strengthen the communities in which these families live. These families and communities need economic supports, educational supports, health supports, and more. Once the girls are in school, Beatrice engages the girls’ families in livelihood projects, such as agribusiness and craft-making, that generate revenue that is often lost when the girls leave the village for school in the city, helping the families rise above mere survival. She also provides safer sex education for her girls and other community members in their villages, providing free condoms whenever possible. She counsels families against early marriage of their daughters, because, even though the practice is illegal in Uganda, many girls--even academically talented girls--are married off before they can attend secondary school, often for the economic survival of their families. And she requires the families in her program to remain free of domestic violence while their girls are in her program. When families struggle with this, she provides counseling. Her memories of witnessing domestic violence in her own family growing up fuel her commitment to helping families in the communities she serves to see past domestic violence, whether in terms of intimate partner abuse, child abuse, or various forms of sexual abuse. To help reduce violence at the community level, Beatrice borrowed strategies that she learned from WCW’s own Open Circle program--strategies that teach recognizing and managing emotions, empathy, positive relationships, and problem solving--and shared them not only with the girls and their families, but also with the teachers and staff of the schools the girls attended. Many teachers, parents, and community members reported that they had never understood the impact of violence on their girls before this training, and many also expressed commitment to eliminate violence from their relationships--in the home and in school.

aidsribbonRecently, Beatrice updated us about her activities, which have grown to support the communities where she works in even broader ways. In addition to a library/community center in Amor Village, which was her project under IREX, she has now started a school complex in Tororo village that already includes a primary school and will grow to include a nursery school, a secondary school, and a vocational education center. Twenty-seven of the mentees who started with PCEF/RGCM at the beginning of secondary school are now pursuing university education. About half of them are studying to become teachers, but the others are pursing fields as diverse as accounting and finance, adult education, economics, motor mechanics, clinical medicine, nursing, human resource management, and wildlife management. Finally, Beatrice is mobilizing donors to purchase solar panels for the families in her network so that they can stop using kerosene lamps. She just thinks of everything!

The Wellesley Centers for Women was not the first to recognize the incredible talent and heart of Beatrice Achieng Nas. In fact, Beatrice had already been recognized as an emerging leader by World Pulse, who brought her to the U.S. to speak on the World Pulse Live Tour. At WCW, we were glad to contribute to Beatrice’s ongoing leadership development, and many of us have stayed connected with her since her time in our midst. In fact, one of our researchers visited Beatrice for a research tutorial as part of a larger East Africa tour, and thanks to additional IREX support, two members of our Open Circle team traveled to Uganda to help Beatrice with the social-emotional learning trainings. We can see that the chance to “walk part of the journey together” has enriched all of us on both sides. Beatrice has benefited from WCW’s research expertise and training projects, while WCW has benefited from Beatrice’s ability to translate our work into action on the ground. We are thankful for the gift of such mutually fulfilling social-change relationships and, on this World AIDS Day, we are grateful that our work, through Beatrice, has helped families and communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Science and the Law Working Together to Improve the Criminal Justice Response to Sexual Assault

microscopeScience and the Law Working Together to Improve the Criminal Justice Response to Sexual Assault

Few would argue that the value of forensic science in solving crimes has been a game changer in favor of the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenders. Indeed, forensic evidence can be credited with bringing many criminals to justice (and exonerating the innocent). In cases of sexual assault, there was hope that advances in evidence gathering would lead to more prosecutions. Fueling this possibility was a focused effort over the last few decades to train medical personnel to collect forensic evidence, known in the criminal justice vernacular as rape or sexual assault kits, in the aftermath of an assault. While intended to be thorough in the interest of evidence gathering, the exam is an intrusive and difficult experience for victims. So it was perhaps one of the most important and disappointing developments when it was discovered that thousands of untested rape kits going back many years were sitting in crime labs or property rooms of police departments across the U.S.

The outrage expressed at this revelation by advocates, practitioners, and policymakers was channeled into action through significant funding allocated by the Department of Justice to conduct research that would serve to develop priorities for testing unsubmitted sexual assault kits. The importance of these efforts was fortified in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. This legislation calls for the development of policies, protocols, and training for law enforcement officers and prosecutors regarding the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases and the appropriate treatment of victims. It also calls for the identification and inventory of backlogs of sexual assault kits and to develop protocols for BlogPullQuote11.24.15responding to and addressing such backlogs, including policies and protocols for notifying and involving victims. States and local jurisdictions have also been responding by implementing backlog reduction legislation or initiatives.

Funds made available through this legislation are being used to analyze backlogged DNA crime scene samples, including sexual assault kits, and offender DNA samples for inclusion in CODIS—a national database containing DNA profiles of persons involved in crimes—and notifying victims of new developments in their cases. There are a number of important projects underway in police departments across the U.S. and some significant results are beginning to emerge that will not only be used to improve testing practices, but will also serve to challenge the entrenched organizational and cultural reluctance to take sexual assaults seriously. While borne out of an unfortunate discovery, the commitment by local, state and federal agencies to understand and address the issue of untested kits provides hope for advancing action and theory in the age old challenge to reduce sexual assault case attrition.

April Pattavina, Ph.D. is co-director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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"The Hunting Ground”—Ground zero for changing social norms on sexual assault?

HuntingGround"The Hunting Ground”—Ground zero for changing social norms on sexual assault?

This week we recognize the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Indeed, gender-based violence impacts women across the globe. Rape in conflict zones or of refugees or of child brides are all horrific and this day makes it clear that violence against women is still a pressing problem—and this includes sexual violence on college campuses.

Today we applaud the courageous women who created, produced, and spoke out in the film “The Hunting Ground.” This movie makes it clear that although sexual assault on campus occurs in the ivied halls of elite U.S. institutions (as well as in the big 10, in religiously affiliated, secular or community colleges) it is not simply one of those #firstworld problems which we must apologize for worrying about in the face of all the tragedies in the world.

“The Hunting Ground” demonstrates the extent to which sexual assault on campus represents not only the evil one person commits against another but also places the harms of campus rape within the context of the institutions. When an institution does not take steps to end sexual violence then they can be seen as providing institutional support for rape and rape culture. While, of course, not all schools fail in this way, many do and the work of the organizers of www.endrapeoncampus.org has brought this to the attention of us all.

The sexual assault of college students—of women and some men—is a denial of access to education. If permitted to continue it relegates women to a marginal status and basically is a way of telling women to “go home.” It gives this message to some women: “If you can't take what is being handed out then you can give your seat at this university to someone who can—to a male” (the male you took it from when women decided they should be able to seek an education so they could become lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, writers, political scientists--- be women who will make a difference in the world.) Carol Tracy (executive BlogPullQuote11.23.15director of the Women’s Law Project, who was honored by the American Society of Criminology just last week for her fight for justice) called the women of “The Hunting Ground” courageous and amazing. Last week Carol helped me to recognize and, yes, maybe even believe, that this film and more importantly the work of these women is the ground zero for a cataclysmic change in how we respond to rape and a path to changing social norms about rape. Certainly this is a turning point in the lengthy battle to stop sexual violence and to end rape. As such, the impact will hopefully go far beyond campuses and the U.S. It is a strong message to victims and survivors throughout the country and throughout the world that they are not alone.

Since Carol and I started working in this field in the early 1970s there has been much change. Many steps forward. In the 1970s there was almost no recognition of the seriousness of the problem of rape for women and men of our land (well except for the brutal legacy of the way black men suspected of rape of white women were treated—an important part of our history we need to return to on another day because I suspect it plays a role in the conflict around men women and rape in the U.S. today.) In the early 1970s Carol was involved in a sit-in against rape that occurred at a fraternity and I was involved in research that led to the discovery that rape was much more likely to take place at the hands of someone known to the victim than to involve a stranger.

Since the 1970s we demonstrated the importance of evidence and rape kits (and then some folks “forgot” to test them) and rape crisis centers were started and researchers began to pay attention to this crime and to victimization. Laws were changed and victims were supported in the process… But in many ways it had begun to feel like we had hit a wall on the progress needed to end rape, to find justice for the survivors and to eliminate violence against women. The film, “The Hunting Ground” and the courageous and ground breaking work of Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark and all the survivors who have made their voices heard make me think—change will come ... A new wave is breaking. “The Hunting Ground” is ground zero for changing norms around sexual assault and eliminating this form of violence against women.

Linda Williams, Ph.D. is co-director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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36 Years since the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights


The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place on October 14, 1979. It was the first march of its kind, and the preparation for it was rocky. The first item on the agenda of the planning conference, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the previous February, asked delegates to decide whether to hold a march at all. Many were opposed. A “hinterlands caucus” argued that calling attention to the presence of LGBT people outside of cities like New York and San Francisco would jeopardize their safety in the small towns where they lived. Lesbians and people of color were skeptical about whether the march would represent their interests.

In the end, though, the conference endorsed a march, to be organized on a grassroots level, led by a steering committee comprised of 50 percent of women and 25 percent people of color. The national organizations of the time, which were much smaller, poorer, and less influential than the ones we have now, were reluctant to join in, fearing that no one would attend, and that a failed march would be worse than none at all. The National Gay Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), for example, endorsed the gathering only a month before it was to take place, when it had become clear that people from around the country were going to stream into Washington in large numbers.

The experience was like nothing I’d ever done before. With friends from the weekly Gay Community News, where I was the features editor, I drove in a van to the march. GCN had printed up thousands of special issues that we were planning to distribute to the marchers. Cars passed us, beeping in support and holding signs out the windows. Every highway rest stop was crowded with people like us. The New Yorkers even chartered a special train. In Washington, the metro was crowded with obvious queers from all over the country. And on the day of the march, a huge crowd of us surrounded the Washington monument. The organizers estimated that there were at least 100,000 at the rally; the media, including the Boston Globe, reported far fewer—but it was a victory that they reported on us at all. Our movement had finally grown too big to ignore. (And in an activist response to the Globe’s underestimate, Lesbian and Gay Media Advocates [LAGMA] formed, to push for accurate, unbiased coverage.)

The march had five main demands:

• Pass a comprehensive lesbian/gay rights bill in Congress.
• Issue a presidential executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government, the military, and federally contracted private employment.
• Repeal all anti-lesbian/gay laws.
• End discrimination in lesbian-mother and gay-father custody cases.
• Protect lesbian and gay youth from any laws which are used to discriminate, oppress, and/or harass them in their homes, schools, jobs, and social environments.

HPGalleryBlogHoffman10.15Thirty-six years later, the social status of LGBT people has changed enormously. Few LGBT people in Montana, say, would worry that a march in Washington, DC, would cause them to be set upon by an angry mob. In liberal Massachusetts, my employer, my neighbors, and my doctor all know I’m a lesbian. I’ve been married to my partner of 27 years since 2003—and my entire family came to our wedding. Since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in June, my marriage is recognized by the federal government as well as that of my state. I can watch many television shows and movies in which LGBT characters make it through the entire plot without killing themselves. I can kiss my wife goodbye on the front steps when I leave for work in the morning without worrying (too much) that we’ll be beaten or shot.

Vice President Joe Biden pointed out during the celebrations of Obergefell, “Although the freedom to marry—and for that marriage to be recognized in all 50 states—is now the law of the land, there are still 32 states where marriage can be recognized in the morning and you can be fired in the afternoon.” We have no federal protection from employment discrimination—nor from discrimination in housing, education, public accommodations, credit, federal funding, and jury service. For that kind of protection, we would need the federal Equality Act: the Comprehensive LGBT Nondiscrimination Bill. It has more than 200 sponsors—but it’s a little hard to imagine it getting anywhere, given everything else that is jammed up in Congress. Last year, after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, LGBT groups gave up even on the more limited Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) after pushing for it for twenty years, since the court decision would have opened the door to endless religious exemptions. (Maybe none of this is surprising, given that the US has not yet been able to pass a women’s Equal Rights Amendment.)

BlogPullQuote10.16.15Still, as you may remember how the ban on discrimination in the military worked out. We had Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was considered a step forward when it was enacted in 1993, because it prevented service members who were LGBT, or thought to be, from being automatically discharged. It was finally repealed in 2011, and the military is now forbidden to discriminate—although the situation of LGBT people who were kicked out with less-than-honorable discharges still remains to be resolved.

We did get that executive order we wanted—just last year. And we got rid of anti-lesbian and gay sodomy laws—but only after a long slog that required not only overturning antiquated state laws but also the Supreme Court’s 1986 Hardwick decision upholding Georgia’s sodomy law. The court overturned Hardwick in the Lawrence v Texas decision—in 2003.

Even child custody, which you might think had been resolved by equal marriage, continues to complicate the lives of LGBT parents and their children. Recently, “officials in Iowa refused to list the biological mother’s wife on the birth certificate of the child they had conceived through donor insemination. Iowa officials argued that the law recognizes the biological and ‘gendered’ roles of ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ grounded in the biological fact that a child has one biological mother and one biological father.” Back in 1993, the feminist science studies scholar Anne Fausto-Sterling wrote that “sex and gender are best conceptualized as points in a multidimensional space”—but Iowa hasn’t yet gotten the message. Wait until it has to tangle with the multidimensional space of gender nonconforming parents and children.

The protection of LGBT young people that we demanded in 1979 is in some ways the most depressing item on the list to contemplate. Of course, in some communities, LGBT youth can find gay-straight alliances, supportive peers and adults, and even church groups, none of which existed for the friends I marched with in 1979, some of whom had been beaten, institutionalized, or simply abandoned by their hideous, homophobic families. But LGBT youth are still disproportionately likely to become homeless because they’ve been rejected and kicked out by family, abused, or neglected. This of course leaves them vulnerable to lifelong poverty and trouble, because they lack education, access to resources, friendship, and support.

I recently asked the activist and writer Urvashi Vaid about why we haven’t progressed farther—at a moment when, as she put it, “some people are acting though the movement is over, and we won.” Equal marriage, she said, “is only a partial victory… The lesson from every civil rights movement is that formal legal equality doesn’t completely address people’s problems. Our community is incredibly diverse, in terms of age, race, nationality, geography, immigration status, gender identification, all kinds of parameters. We have to look at people’s lives through many lenses.” She is currently leading an effort to address income inequality in the LGBT community—because despite the stereotype of the rich, white, gentrifying gay man, many LGBT people are far less economically secure than their straight counterparts, and their children are more likely to live in poverty. LGBT people continue to experience discrimination, legal run-ins, violence, homelessness—basically, all the issues we were fighting to change back in 1979.

As the late Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Amy Hoffman, M.F.A., is editor-in-chief of Women’s Review of Books published by Wellesley Centers for Women and Old City Publishing. A writer, editor, and community activist, she is the author of three memoirs including, An Army of Ex-Lovers: My Life at the Gay Community News, about Boston’s lesbian and gay movement during the late 1970s, which was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2007.

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Stopping the Pain of Social Exclusion

hands upEveryone Needs to STOP the Pain!
Everyone Needs the Pain to STOP!
Stopping the Pain of Social Exclusion

“Hands up!” The universal symbol of surrender, sign of protest, and signal for self-selection to take action. All of these are integral in stopping the pain of social exclusion.

Human beings are built to function physically, emotionally, and spiritually in supportive groups. This simple fact has recently been supported by neuroscience research and helps explain why individuals and groups of people that are marginalized or socially excluded often suffer from higher levels of chronic health problems and shorter life expectancy.

SPOT Social Pain Overlap Theory1: How and Why Social Exclusion Hurts All of Us

Being part of a group is so critical to humans that our nervous system literally uses the same alarm (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) to register the danger and distress of physical pain or injury AND social exclusion. This neuroscience finding requires that we stop bifurcating pain into physical and emotional and start realizing that pain is pain and that social exclusion and marginalization are forms of violence that impact individuals and whole groups of people.

Social Pain forms – Covert and Overt

Social pain occurs in a number of different forms, some obvious, some not so obvious. The not so obvious may be hard to see, they are insidious like the background noise or the air we breathe. They are chronic assumptions about who we are and what our interests, strengths, and weaknesses might be. They are assumed by others and attached to our identities such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender.

These subtle daily attacks or microaggressions can have devastating short- and long-term impact. For example, Native or Indigenous Americans constantly having to combat broad assumptions about cultural sacred practices, misuse of regalia, offensive displays of imagery in athletic team mascots, or even the ongoing challenge to defend one’s very existence.

BlogPullQuote9.14.15The obvious forms of social pain are glaringly obvious, often flagrant and extreme. Black men and women being stopped by police, detained or harassed, and imprisoned at sweepingly disproportionate rates compared to White people; too often resulting in violence and even murder.

Both the subtle and blatant forms of social pain emerge together and take place across a range of areas including reliable public safety, access to and quality of healthcare, education and jobs, affordable sustainable housing, and more. Both institutional and personal marginalization is the bedrock for social pain to occur in all of its many forms.

Psychological Resistance to Marginalization

What we know is that people who have been and are being marginalized have always pushed back in ... READ FULL ARTICLE>>

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Maggie Tripp: Firebrand Feminist in a Peck & Peck Suit

MaggieTrippMaggie Tripp: Firebrand Feminist in a Peck & Peck Suit

Maggie Tripp (1921-2014) was a trailblazer with a special connection to the Wellesley Centers for Women. Known for her impeccable appearance in Peck & Peck suits (who remembers these??) when everyone else was dressed in jeans, she was an “improbable” feminist whose indomitable spirit and can-do attitude attracted her to the women’s movement early on and whose wise and witty speaking ability allowed her to become what the Long Island Newsday described as “the respected mouthpiece of the women’s movement.” In 1974, she published a forward-looking edited volume titled Woman in the Year 2000, with provocative chapters by authors ranging from Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin to Alvin Toffler. In 1988, she donated her extensive feminist book collection to the Wellesley Center for Research on Women (as we were then called), after it was rejected by her own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Her donation established the Madelyn B. Tripp Library, an intimate reading room filled with both important classics and lesser-known volumes that were influential in their time.

Recently, we added a particularly special volume to the library: A Woman with a Mind of Her Own, subtitled The Delicious Adventures of Maggie, Who Lived by Her Own Rules as Daughter, Wife, Mother, Businesswoman, Professor, Author, Public Speaker…and True Feminist (Archway, 2015). This book, part memoir and part posthumous tribute, was written by Maggie’s husband, Alan R. Tripp – Maggie’s biggest fan and a “women’s movement man” in his own right. This delightful and illuminating book combines personal anecdotes about Maggie in each of these roles with excerpts from her writings and speeches, to provide not only a historical record of an important figure in the second-wave women’s movement but also food for thought today.

AlanTrippVideoOver the summer, Alan visited us here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, and here’s what he had to say about Maggie>>


If you look carefully through the New York Times Book Review this weekend, you might just find this new book. It is the perfect read for a train ride or the beach side (where I myself read it this summer), and its anecdotes are shareable even with young feminists (read: teenagers) of any gender. It’s the kind of book that even people who don’t call themselves feminists will relate to and enjoy, and yet seasoned feminists will learn something new, too. It’s a true feminist family affair!

Alan Tripp has described Maggie as both “blunt” and “charming” – a combination of attributes that helped her break down barriers and advance the women’s agenda in her time. As a young student at Barnard, she found the rules archaic and confining and took her complaints to the school’s famous dean, Virginia Gildersleeve. The dean challenged Maggie to “resign” if she didn’t like the rules, which Maggie did, choosing to continue her studies at Penn instead. There’s a wonderful story in the book about how, later, in 1968, Maggie moved to New York and stormed into the registrar’s office of the New School for Social Research asking to take courses “where the action is.” The registrar directed her to women’s studies, and the rest is history. From there Maggie became a women’s studies instructor, author, speaker, organizer, and general firebrand! I encourage you to learn more about the life of this colorful mover and shaker who is very dear to all of us at WCW!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Learn more about Maggie Tripp and Alan Tripp's new book at TrippyBooks.com today.

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A Reformed Peace Conference Skeptic

LGblogA Reformed Peace Conference Skeptic

Earlier this summer I attended--even though I was a skeptical about peace conferences and felt they were a waste of time, energy, and resources--the Third Annual Hague Peace Conference in Holland.

Living in a post-conflict country, Liberia, I had become aware that peace was simply not the absence of war, and until the international community recognized that, peace conferences would amount to nothing. Since attending this conference, however, my skepticism has been replaced with hope.

The Hague University of Applied Sciences organized the Third Hague Peace Conference, “not for government delegations but for the new generation of students who have a keen interest in contributing to better ideas on how to improve the maintenance of peace and humanitarian law.” The Conference should have taken place originally 100 years ago, in 1915, but the outbreak of the First World War made it impossible.

The Conference evolved around an essay competition in which over 140 essays were received and of these, 75 students from 33 countries were selected, including mine. My essay highlighted my rather “unconventional” suggestions to contributing to peace around the world. Just like former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, I argued that gender equality is a perquisite to maintaining peace around the world. I drew my conclusions from one of his favorite quotes on gender equality--that it is “more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.” To illustrate my point, I gave an example of a research done by Saferworld which revealed that there is strong evidence that the gender norms which underpin gender inequality can drive conflict and violence, particularly where cultural notions of masculinity are associated with violence, domination, and control. A case study focused on some communities in South Sudan which revealed that participation in violent cattle raids, which perpetuates conflict between communities, was seen as a prerequisite to manhood and a rite of passage for young men in South Sudan.

BlogPullQuote8.19.15inddThe three-day conference was full of conversations and speeches by professors, politicians, lawyers, and students from around the world and it helped further shape my ideas about peace and how, instead of been skeptical, I can contribute to achieving world peace. It wasn’t merely these conversations or speeches that shaped my thinking, but mostly by being a part this global community I had the opportunity to use my voice--and the voices of other participants--to rally behind a common good. The conference exposed me to a lot of factors undermining peace around the world as well as possible solutions to tackle them. It brought me face to face with other young people from around the world who had similar experiences as mine but who had examples of proven and possible solutions for peacebuilding. One of those participants was a Canadian law student, originally from Rwanda, who became an immigrant at a tender age because of the genocide in her country. She stressed her idea that peace is possible but only if we focus our efforts on changing international humanitarian laws.

Lastly, while at the conference, I realized how interesting and complicated the concept of peace is and how it means different things to different people. For example, a participant from Ghana told me peace is when “two opposing parties agree to pursue an agenda although it doesn't favor their interest and philosophies.” Robert Fulghum, an American author, once said that “peace is not something you wish for, it is something you make, something you are, something you do, and something you give away.” I see peace as not merely the absence of war but an “era” where every individual have the opportunity to grow, develop, and envision the future they want.

More importantly, the conference has made me more determined to stop being a skeptic--not that it is wrong--but to be more hopeful and put that hope into work for better world. It showed me that more emerging leaders should have such opportunities. I have been able to build networks around the world that will surely be useful to me in the future and the work that I will do. This conference was 100 years in the making, and there’s much work to do, together.

Laura Golakeh, M.A. is founder and executive director of Right to Read Liberia, a Mandela Washington Fellow 2014, member of the 2014/2015 Gender and Peacebuilding class at the United Nations mandated University for Peace, and a 2015 summer intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Women's Soccer and the New Feminist Power

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How Foreign Abortion Bans Hurt Children

SangerPostHow Foreign Abortion Bans Hurt Children

The following blog article and corresponding photo was posted on the New York Daily News, June 3, 2015 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

With Memorial Day behind us and summer here, most kids in New York are finishing school or preparing for camp or dreaming of pools and extended playtime.

But this summer will be very, very different for one 10-year-old girl in Paraguay. Because she’s pregnant.

The girl’s doctors discovered the pregnancy after she complained of a stomachache. But despite the fact that the girl is 10 years old and that doctors have identified the pregnancy — the result of the girl being raped by her stepfather — as dangerous and high-risk, the Paraguayan government has refused her access to an abortion.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, seven countries ban abortion under all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. Paraguay is not one of them. Even though the law of the land states that abortions are legal in instances that pose a significant threat to the health of the mother, the Paraguayan government continues to deny this child access to a potentially life-saving procedure. This constitutes a cruel denial of the girl’s basic human rights, tantamount to torture.

My grandmother, Margaret Sanger, founded the organizations that would become Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federation — to provide education and services to men and women in an effort to end injustices like violence against women and enforced pregnancy. She believed that providing access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare was integral in empowering women to fully engage and participate in their communities and live the lives they want. I followed in her footsteps and, as the head of Planned Parenthood New York City, heard from countless women who needlessly suffered before abortion became legal in New York.

Cases like this 10-year-old’s make it clear that that needless suffering hasn’t ended, especially if you look abroad. For instance, one out of every three women in Latin America is a mother before her 20th birthday. 20% of all adolescent pregnancies occur among girls younger than 15, and are often the result of sexual abuse within the family.

At IPPF Western Hemisphere Region clinics, we provide contraception and abortionBlogPullQuoteSanger services to women and girls who need them. What our clinic staff has seen firsthand is that blocking access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care doesn’t stop them from being needed, or even stop them from happening — it just keeps them from being safe. Due in large part to extensive abortion bans throughout the region, 95% of abortions in Latin America are performed in unsafe conditions that threaten the health and lives of women.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. Specifically, in Latin America, girls who give birth before the age of 16 are four times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s.

And yet politicians around the globe — including in Paraguay and the United States — have shut their eyes to common sense and public health by continuing to ban and criminalize abortion, even abortion in cases of rape or incest. Children should not be forced into motherhood and doctors should not be kept from providing life-saving care just because of political hurdles.

And in instances like the 10-year-old girl currently pregnant in Paraguay, government officials shouldn’t be able to act counter to the spirit of the law and put young girls in serious danger because of political whims or extreme beliefs.

That’s why a broad spectrum of human rights and international advocacy organizations are calling on the Paraguayan minister of public health and wellbeing, Dr. Antonio Barrios, to immediately intervene and grant the girl access to safe abortion services. By doing that, Dr. Barrios would be upholding Paraguayan law and following the advice of leading international medical authorities — and, potentially, saving the life of a very real girl who has already survived more trauma than a child of her age should ever be forced to encounter.

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

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Why Relationships Matter

relationships matter blog imageWhy Relationships Matter

 by Kamilah Drummond-Forrester

Relationships are essential to fostering equity and excellence in our schools and classrooms. Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are one of the vehicles that can be used to establish genuine, caring relationships throughout school communities. SEL programs that have a whole-school implementation model and are purposeful about infusing culturally-responsive curricula further enhance the positive impact on schools. It is proven that we learn best when we are in environments in which we feel cared for and connected to others. Research has demonstrated that children who have a positive connection with at least one adult stay in school longer, make better decisions, and have better life outcomes overall. Let’s be honest, when adults work in environments in which they have positive connections and feel cared for and valued, they perform better and their employers experience less turnover. Positive relationships are good for all of us.

As we research and think about our educational system and the gaps that exist for black and brown children, SEL programming has to be a critical component of the discussion. SEL programs, such as Open Circle, which include a whole-school implementation model, not only provide curricula for SEL skill building for students but also include professional development for SEL skill building and consciousness raising for all adults in the school community and at home.

The guiding principles on which Open Circle is grounded provide an importantBlogPullQuoteRelationships framework for thinking about teaching and learning. The importance of relationships to cognitive and social growth, the importance of teaching SEL skills, and the importance of adults as models are the critical underpinnings of our work.

The importance of relationships to cognitive and social growth

Educators have known for a long time that “[children] don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” - Theodore Roosevelt When we show genuine care and concern for our students and their experiences, inside and outside of the classroom, and when we take the time to truly get to know and understand them, we are creating fertile ground for learning and engagement to take place.

The importance of teaching SEL skills

In my work as an educator in the Suffolk County House of Correction one of the things that struck me was how insightful and intelligent my students were. When I would ask them about their experiences in school, one theme that emerged was that being challenged by academics was not the thing that pulled them off a more positive path, but rather feeling ill-equipped to navigate and manage the social dynamics of school, family and community led to choices and situations that resulted in their involvement with the criminal justice system. Taking time out weekly to focus on SEL skill building is critical to equipping our students with the necessary competencies to cope with, manage, and rise above the daily challenges many face.

The importance of adults as models

The old adage of “do as I say and not as I do” has never been true. Parents and adults who work with children can attest that no matter what you say, children will more likely mimic what they see you do. This fact is important for caregivers and it is equally as important for educators and administrators. Taking time to invest in the quality of adult relationships and the modeling of those positive relationships is critical to this work. The student community mimics the adult community in many ways. If there is derision, gossiping, unfriendliness or devaluing among the adults, the same will hold true for the students. These ways of being permeate the space and gives it an unwelcoming, unsafe, and tense feel. Honoring our strengths, being curious and open to learn about our differences, and being honest about what we know and don’t know all contribute to the development and nurturing of positive relationships among the adult community.

By offering training for administrators, specialists and support staff, grade-level teachers, and families, Open Circle is recognizing that it does in fact “take a village.”

So as we continue the dialogue on how to fill the gaps in educational opportunity and achievement let’s not forget to start with the basics. Relationships, positive and genuine relationships, set the foundation for creating schools and classrooms in which all students and educators feel safe, cared for and engaged to do their best learning and teaching. Social and emotional programming is a means to this end. Open Circle offers the most comprehensive means of getting there.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester joined Open Circle as a Program Manager in June 2013. She is the co-founder of the Dorchester Collegiate Academy Charter School (DCA) in Boston, MA. Kamilah served as the school’s first board chair and later became the Director of Wellness to work directly with students. She oversaw the social and emotional programming at the school. This included developing the social and emotional curriculum, coordinating services with outside mental health and social service agencies, as well as working directly with students and families.

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Healthy Young People Despite a World Filled With Violence

LFortunaBlogHealthy Young People Despite a World Filled With Violence

The following article was posted May 4, 2015 on the Medicine and Faith blog of Lisa Fortuna, M.D., and is re-posted with permission by the author. She is pictured a pledge to be a Partner in Peace during the Mother's Day Walk for Peace in Boston, MA.

Because I am a priest and a psychiatrist I spend a lot of time discerning the meaning of things. The past two weeks have been filled with a lot of news stories about discord, violence and hate. A lot of this very bad news has to do with racism, divisions, greed, and power. I only have to bring up Ferguson, Baltimore or ISIS and you know the kinds of stories I am speaking of. These things bring me to two questions: How do we raise up our young people to be healthy in body, mind and spirit in a world that upholds such violence? How does our world contribute to the development of anxiety, depression, and traumatic stress in our young people?

Today one of my parishioners asked me, “What can we do to help our kids make it in this world?”

It is an important and challenging question that I have had to try to answer either at the coffee hour after church service, in my consultation office when seeing a patient and their parents, or when investigating a new intervention that might help young people with depression or trauma.

BlogPullQuote5.18.15Although these are all big questions, I have at least learned a few things over the years through my clinical practice, research and ministry about what helps young people stay healthy (or what helps them heal if needed) in mind, body and spirit. Here are my top five learnings of what helps young people:

1. Having someone in their life that is absolutely crazy about them, loves them unconditionally and lets them know it.

2. Having a sense of community and true belonging.

3. Developing compassion for self and others.

4. Connecting to ones heritage and traditions while also embracing new ideas and diversity (Includes bi-culturalism, multiculturalism).

5. Developing a sense of a greater good and commitment to something bigger than oneself (spirituality, justice, connecting across differences).

I have found that these five core areas are very important for emotional health and development.

Here are some links of some examples of youth living into these principles and adults supporting them on the journey:

La Puerta Abierta/ The Open Door—a program for clinical excellence and belonging for immigrant youth


What are some of the ways we can engender these types of experiences and opportunities for growth and healing in the lives of our young people?

LFortunaBlog2Lisa Fortuna, M.D. is a psychiatrist triple board certified in general psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and addiction medicine. A research collaborator with scholars at the Wellesley Centers for Women, she is the medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry services for the Boston Medical Center, faculty at Boston University Medical School, and an Episcopal Priest serving as pastor in a Latino congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

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Celebrate Diversity Month-April 2015

RCblogCelebrate Diversity Month-April 2015

The purpose of Celebrate Diversity Month is to recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of cultures around us. Although this is often a necessary first step toward increasing understanding and heightening awareness of the differences and similarities among us, not probing beyond these experiences can lead to a “tourist approach” to understanding difference, particularly when engagement with other cultures is limited to the more obvious areas (e.g., food, arts, celebrations, music, and historical contributions). This often results in those cultures remaining in the realm of “exotic other.” Why not take Celebrate Diversity Month to the next level? What if we work to gain a deeper understanding of the invisible riches and underlying motivations of culture?

My own journey beyond tourist-based experiences of culture began with the discovery of several models for deconstructing and understanding culture. One of these, the Iceberg Model of Culture, is a tool for elucidating the two layers of every culture: surface culture and deep culture. Picture an iceberg with its smallest visible part above the water (surface culture) and much larger, invisible part below (deep culture). Surface culture includes food, dress, literature, history, language, etc., while deep culture includes core values, concepts of personal space, world views, nonverbal communication, beliefs, tolerance for change, etc. Deep culture always influences surface culture. In fact, it can be challenging to make sense of the surface aspects of a culture without understanding the invisible, deep elements from which those aspects originate. We can be proactive by journeying beyond our tourist-based experiences of surface culture and delving into deeper aspects of other cultures.

BlogPullQuote4.22.15My academic and teaching interests lie at the intersection of culture, computation, community, and cognition--I like to think about how technology can support learning in community and public settings. In my Digital Technologies and Learning Communities seminar, I challenge my students to push beyond their cultural tourist-based experiences to engage in deep culture learning of both their own and of others’ cultures, and to consider how deep culture impacts equity in learning. Throughout the semester, students practice designing learning technology interventions that are culturally responsive in deeper ways.

For a broader equity perspective on learning technologies, let’s consider how deep culture impacts learning technology policies, even before those technologies leave the factory. Cultural assumptions about learning--and learners--inform design decisions. Technology designers are often oblivious to how their cultural programming influences their ideas about appropriate characteristics of software functions, features, and interface metaphors. The deep cultures evident in those spaces where learning technology design decisions are being made usually forecast who will benefit most from that technology’s use. For example, gaming software companies (predominately white and male) have often been criticized for the gender and other biases embedded in their game design choices. This has fueled efforts to design gaming software that incorporates greater gender flexibility (and to increase gender diversity within the designer ranks). There is a more detailed discussion of this phenomenon in my chapter, “Diversity and Inclusion in the Learning Enterprise: Implications for Learning Technologies,” in the forthcoming Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology.

Celebrate Diversity Month is our opportunity to take steps toward a better understanding of other cultures. We can deepen that celebration by taking a few more steps toward understanding the invisible structures and practices that fuel our own and others’ cultures. Wellesley College is an amazing and privileged place. Our students are the future educators, policy makers, executives, entrepreneurs, etc. who will craft a better world. Their time with us is an opportunity to grow beyond the limitations of tourist-based diversity experiences and delve into the richness and complexities of deep culture. Let’s join them in that learning. If we are to offer our students more equitable and inclusive learning spaces, then we must examine--and when appropriate, address--the deep cultures within our institution, our disciplines, and ourselves. We must encourage the exploration of deep cultures as well as surface cultures. This is the pathway to appreciation of differences and similarities within our communities.

RChapinRobbin Chapman, Ph.D. is Associate Provost and Academic Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Lecturer, Education Department at Wellesley College.

1383 Hits

Equal Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

78centsEqual Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

What is a woman worth? On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, we celebrate Equal Pay Day, a day to acknowledge the continuing gap in wages between women and men. By now, we are all familiar with the statistics – women employed full-time, year-round earn only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. While some of this gap is attributable to differences in worker’s education, training or experience, about 40% of the pay gap can be attributed to discrimination.

What does this familiar narrative mean for individual women? Let’s start with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). While girls have closed the gap with boys in high school science and math, women are losing ground in engineering and computing. While Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recommends leaning in, Gamergate reminded us of the challenges and open hostility that women can face in tech fields.

Over one-third of women are employed in the health and education fields; four of the top 20 occupations for women in are these fields--elementary and middle school teachers, secondary school teachers, registered nurses, and nursing and psychiatric aides. Even in these heavily female occupations, men outearn women. For example, “males in nursing outearned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.”

BlogPullQuote4.13.15Service occupations, such as maids and housekeeping cleaners, personal care aides and child care workers, are the lowest paid of all broad occupational categories. This disproportionately affects the earnings of women of color; while 16% of all women work in service occupations, 24% of Black women, and 27% of Latinas, are employed in service occupations.

How do we fix this? There are a few proposals on the table right now that would go a long way to address this gap. First, raising the minimum wage would affect women who are disproportionately employed in low-wage occupations. Second, ensuring equal pay for work of equal value, and putting teeth into the Equal Pay Act, would reduce wage discrimination [link ]. Third, providing paid parental leave for all workers would make it possible for mothers with young children to stay competitive in the labor force, and for parents to participate equally in raising their families. Wouldn’t it be great if we never needed to celebrate Equal Pay Day again?

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

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Human Rights, Women’s Rights: Plodding Toward Progress

beijingHuman Rights, Women’s Rights: Plodding Toward Progress

This article, by Susan McGee Bailey, was originally published on the Girl W/ Pen blog on March 20, 2015.

“Fighting for women’s equality is an arduous but necessary process, ploddingly pursued by dedicated women and men who refuse to accept a lesser role for women in society.” Jean Hardisty (1945-2015)

March is Women’s History Month, but the history being made in the U.S. is far from uplifting. Women continue to be an easy batting ball for political impasses. We continue to struggle for basics readily available in most other developed nations: e.g. paid family and sick leave, adequate childcare, health and reproductive rights. As an antidote to setbacks in this country—where we seem to be in the two-steps-back phase of the old ‘three steps forward, two steps back’ adage—I’ve looked at reports released in conjunction with this month’s 59th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). There are some encouraging signs. But progress is slow, uneven; the struggle for women’s rights and equality is far from over. Nevertheless, celebrating positive accomplishments can provide motivation needed to keep us all plodding ahead, no matter how soggy the road. Jean Hardisty knew better than anyone how critical plodding along is. For all of us around the country—and in various corners of the world— who knew Jean as a beloved colleague, mentor and leader in the battle for human rights and justice, there is no better way to honor her life and her work than to keep on plodding.

BlogPullQuote3.23.15So, some good news gleaned from reports on progress for women since the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing:

~ The global rate of maternal deaths in childbirth has dropped by over 40 percent;
~ Adolescent births have fallen by more than 30 percent;
~ Many countries have made significant gains in girls’ education, particularly at the primary school level;
~ And people everywhere are paying more attention to gender gaps in access and opportunities on everything from health services and education to leadership, employment and earnings.

Sadly, for almost every positive statement one can make, there is a ‘but’. And some ‘buts’ are so overwhelming it seems pointless to mention the positive. For example, awareness of violence against women has grown, but the violence itself has not lessened. One third of the world’s women have experienced physical or sexual violence. It is estimated that the number girls among trafficking victims has increased by more than ten percent in the past seven years.

The Beijing meetings two decades ago were electrifying. A total of 17,000 women and men from 189 countries attended the official Fourth United Nations Conference on Women. Another 30,000 took part in the parallel NGO Forum held outside the capital in Huairou. We returned to our homes around the globe committed to doing whatever we could, both individually and collectively, to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. Many of those unable to attend the meetings in China were eager partners. In country after country, women and men worked together to ensure the ‘full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.’

But the transformative promise of the Beijing Platform for Action has not yet been fulfilled. The Platform was a call for a change in focus from women to gender. A call for recognizing that the structure of society and relationships between women and men must be rethought if women are to be fully empowered as equal partners with men. The Platform affirmed that women’s rights are human rights, that gender equality benefits everyone. In retrospect these called for changes in thinking and action were exceedingly ambitious given the ten-year time frame originally stated. Even after 20 years we have not succeeded. But ambitious goals generate ambitious plans, and ambitious plans are required to sustain commitment, passion, and determined action.

As the Women’s Rights Caucus stated last week in response to the draft declaration from CSW: “At a time when urgent action is needed to fully realize gender equality, the human rights and empowerment of women and girls, we need renewed commitment, a heightened level of ambition, real resources, and accountability.” Some UN member states may not share this perspective. Nations that do must speak loudly. Within a few days over seven hundred and 50 organizations had signed the caucus statement. NGOs representing women from all parts of the world and all strata of society must push, and push hard to ensure that the spirit as well as the letter of the Beijing Platform is carried forward.

None of this work is easy. Much of it is unpopular in certain circles. But we have pushed and plodded our way this far. A 40 percent decline in maternal morbidity is a major step forward. The progress in access to primary education for girls is impressive. Many more huge steps await. We have done it before; we can do it again. And again, and again, and again!

Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D. served as Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Education at Wellesley College for 25 years. She attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

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In Memoriam: Jean Hardisty

PhotoCredit:EllenShubIn Memoriam: Jean Hardisty

“Fighting for women’s equality is an arduous but necessary process, ploddingly pursued by dedicated women and men who refuse to accept a lesser role for women in society.”

Jean Hardisty, Ph.D., August 2013

(Photo credit: Ellen Shub)

The Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) community is saddened to share news that social justice champion and WCW Senior Scholar Jean Hardisty, Ph.D., died March 16, 2015. Dr. Hardsity was a widely published author and activist, especially for women's rights and civil rights. She was the founder and president emerita of Political Research Associates (PRA), a Boston-based research center that analyzes right wing, authoritarian, and anti-democratic trends and publishes educational materials for the general public. She retired from PRA in 2004 after 23 years but continued to build on her important scholarship and advocacy, including as a senior scholar at WCW.

"Jean Hardisty was a bold scholar who knew the power of data to advance social justice,” said Layli Maparyan, Ph.D, WCW executive director. “Her courageous research probed political questions and topics in places where others might have feared to tread. She has left a tremendous legacy of work, both in her scholarship and in the institution of PRA."

A political scientist with a B.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Dr. Hardisty taught and researched conservative political thought in academia before establishing PRA in response to the emergence of the New Right in 1981. She pursued this challenging work with respectful candor, sharp debate, and tireless campaigning—her gentle presence and humor were countered most remarkably by a ferocity for confronting social injustices.

“Pushing people out of their comfort zones is a great mistake that’s sometimes made by progressive movements,” she shared in a 2012 interview in WCW’s Research & Action Report. “But not providing constant encouragement and constant paths to activism—and to leadership, if women can and want to do that—is an equally big mistake. I believe we each have talent to contribute to advocacy for a more just society, but we must make our own path, not forgetting to celebrate our successes. We can make a better world for women, which will be a better world for all.”

BlogPullQuote3.18.15Dr. Hardisty had served on the Board of Directors of the Highlander Center for Research and Education, the Ms. Foundation, the Center for Community Change, and the Center for Women Policy Studies, among others. Her book, Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers, was first published by Beacon Press in 1999. Some of her WCW-related commentaries, blog articles, and presentations have been archived and are available on the Centers’ website.


“Jean Hardisty was a mentor, a role model, an inspiration and a friend. She leaves a huge gap in the lives of all who knew her, all who turned to her for guidance. Both a visionary and a realist, she led the way toward greater justice for all with a rare combination of intellectual prowess, unwavering passion, fierce determination—and always, a magnificent gentleness. It is hard to imagine a world without her.”
- Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D., WCW executive director (1985-2010)

"Jean had a deep commitment to social justice and related to it passionate advocacy which she pursued with intellectual vigor. She combined these with a delicious sense of humor and camaraderie. I looked forward to each and every one of our conversations. I join so many others who feel enriched by the way she touched our lives and cheated out of not having more of her for chats, dinners, walks, and invaluable wisdom in how to make sense of this crazy world."
- Sumru Erkut, Ph.D, WCW senior research scientist

“Jean’s intelligence, commitment, idealism, research, and radical thought inspired feminists, LGBT activists, and all progressive people. I was so fortunate to know her these past few years and to receive her friendship and enthusiastic support of Women’s Review of Books, WCW, and my own writing. I will miss her warmth, what I can only call her loving kindness—her unique, beautiful spirit. To honor her I will try harder than ever to carry that into my own work. Her memory is a blessing.”
- Amy Hoffman, MFA, editor-in-chief, Women’s Review of Books

“Jean was beloved by many, those who knew her well and those at a distance. She was so gentle and yet a fierce fighter for justice. I'm honored that as a part of the Wellesley Centers for Women community, she had an office across from mine and that I was among those who got to be called "hi sweetie" by her. She will remain an inspiration.”
- Nan Stein, Ed.D., WCW senior research scientist

Share your reflections about Jean Hardisty, her life, her work, her influence by posting a Comment:


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The Power of Women’s Social Science Research in Social Justice Movements

march15blogThe Power of Women’s Social Science Research in Social Justice Movements

When most people think about how social change happens, the role of social science research probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, our histories of social change, social movement, and social justice have been shaped by social science research that provided crucial evidence to move things along. As head of the Wellesley Centers for Women, the nation’s oldest and largest academic women and gender focused research and action institute, now celebrating its 40th year, I’d like to talk about the role of social science research by women in advancing gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing by highlighting three studies by women that really made a difference.

In the late 1930s, Mamie Phipps Clark, a masters student in psychology at Howard University, began to wonder about the relationship between school context and racial self-concept in children. She devised a method of testing children’s racial self-concept using, first, black and white images of children and, later, black and white dolls. Using this method, she collected data from children in three kinds of schools--segregated schools (all black children, black teachers), semi-segregated schools (mostly black children, white teachers), and integrated schools (black and white children, white teachers)--in Arkansas and New York City. She found that, in general, black children in all three conditions were more likely to rate the white image or doll as “good” and the black image or doll as “bad”; however, these effects were most pronounced in the semi-segregated condition where all the children were black and all the teachers were white.

This research was later published with her husband Kenneth Bancroft Clark, also a psychologist, as a series of five papers between 1939-1947, during and after the time both were pursuing their Ph.D.s in psychology at Columbia University. These papers became a cornerstone of the famous “Social Science Statement”--a survey of research drafted by Kenneth Clark, Isidor Chein, and Stuart W. Cook, which made the case that segregation is bad for children--black and white. This statement was submitted as an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952 and was ultimately cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954--proving that social science research really does make a difference in social change.

BlogPullQuote3.4.15In the mid-1970s, Stanford-based psychologist Sandra Lipsitz Bem began to wonder how she might measure the limiting effects of traditional sex roles. This question had been raised by the women’s liberation movement, as more and more women became aware of--and concerned about--things like the “glass ceiling” and gender wage gap, as well as parenting differentials at home. Bem devised the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), a quantitative measure of traditional masculinity and femininity, which she published in 1974. Unlike previous sex role inventories, the BSRI allowed researchers to capture degrees of masculinity and femininity within the same person, rather than just rating an individual as either masculine or feminine. In addition, the BSRI introduced a new sex role category: androgyny. This category referred to people--male or female--who scored high in both masculinity and femininity. (People who scored low in both were referred to as “undifferentiated.”) Research based on the BSRI showed that women who scored high on androgyny showed levels of workplace success that were similar to men scoring high in masculinity, while women who scored high in femininity tended to experience more barriers to workplace success. Ironically, Bem was not tenured at Stanford despite many awards for her research, although Cornell subsequently rewarded her with a full professorship. Like Mamie Clark, Sandra Bem contributed to the outcome of landmark civil rights cases, this time in the area of employment. Bem testified as an expert witness in both the 1973 case against the Pittsburgh Press (ending the division of “help wanted” ads by sex) and the 1974 AT&T sex-discrimination settlement (ending many employment practices that discriminated against women). On a broader cultural level, Bem’s work also influenced how children are socialized about gender through books, toys, and television--in particular, widening the options presented to girls. In the long run, Sandra Bem’s research on sex roles helped establish the idea that gender is socially constructed and not merely inborn, expanding our society’s ideas about what it means to be a man or woman and opening up options along the full “spectrum of gender.”

In the mid-2000s, two political scientists--Mala Htun of the University of New Mexico and Laurel Weldon of Purdue University--embarked on a quest to discover empirically what really makes a difference in ending violence against women at the societal level. Examining data from 70 countries collected over four decades, these researchers determined that a single factor makes the most difference: the existence of an autonomous feminist movement within a country. In their provocative 2012 article titled “The Civic Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975-2005,” these authors showed that “feminist mobilization in civil society” is more strongly correlated with the creation of policies that combat violence against women than any other factor that they measured, including percentage of women in government, activity of leftist parties, or relative national wealth. To quote these authors, “autonomous [feminist] movements produce an enduring impact on VAW policy through the institutionalization of feminist ideas in international norms.” They further state that, “analysis of civil society in general--and of social movements in particular – is critical to understanding progressive policy change.” What this comprehensive study tells us is that, despite the hurdles and setbacks that large-scale social movements inevitably face, they are, in the end, what makes a difference in bringing us closer to equity, justice, and wellbeing. And, on a more granular level, all of the large and small organizations that exist to advance social change within such movements are absolutely essential to achieving the aims we dream of. Htun and Weldon dared to use “big data” to illuminate a reality that common sense alone could not have revealed.

We must thank these and many other women social scientists for the painstaking work of bringing hard evidence to bear on our diverse social change efforts in the U.S. and globally. Social scientists, especially women social scientists, have played a crucial yet unsung role in bringing us closer to our shared ideals of gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing. Let us celebrate them this Women’s History Month!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

1519 Hits

Valuing the Ideological Roots of Women’s Athletics

Feb6ImageValuing the Ideological Roots of Women’s Athletics

Did those female gym teachers back in the early 1900s actually have it right? No one wants to return to bloomers and half-court basketball, but the coalition of female physical educators who ran women’s sports and fought takeover by the NCAA (which took control of women’s college athletics in 1980) were onto something. Their message--that sport should be about self-development, social skills, and fair play--sounds pretty great right now.

They found competition unseemly (that's a problem), but their broad recognition of college sport as a life and community-building pursuit is worth a reprise given the mess that has become the NCAA-led college sports world.

Right now we’re in the midst of soul-searching about what college sports should look like. A spate of lawsuits ask about the “student” status of student-athletes and whether they should be paid. Last month, the five wealthiest conferences--Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12, and Southeastern--began a new era of freedom from many NCAA rules, gaining leeway to give more money to players. Where will this go? Will more universities develop athletes instead of scholars? (Some already do.) Will only marquis players get extra money? Will non-revenue-producing sports look expendable in a more commercialized environment?

The Knight Commission recently polled DI college leaders on their interest in exploring alternative models for competition and administration for some sports. Ambivalence won: 43 percent of respondents were interested; 37 percent weren’t. There’s a lot to figure out--and little consensus on where to go.

The college sports debate, let’s be clear, is a male conversation. It is ruled by big-time sports--football and men’s basketball--and the economic disruption they have created in the academic system. This is about competition and money. No wonder Cardale Jones, the third-string quarterback who just led Ohio State to the inaugural National BlogPullQuote2.6.15Championship, was confused when he arrived on campus. His 2012 tweet: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”

If Cardale did not come to “play SCHOOL,” why should Ohio State--or any big time program--be other than a semi-pro team? While we’re here, what role should college football--with it's concussion and brain damage record--even have in higher education? The conflicts are moral, but dollars will rule.

The gym teachers saw athletics as integral to school; the problem today is precisely that they are not. High-powered programs with big revenues (most lose money, but a handful make a bundle) operate as independent commercial enterprises. The wealthy programs pay coaches what their peers in the NFL and the NBA earn. (Sometimes more!) Cardale Jones does have a point: He was brought to play football and bring money and success to the program. You can’t blame players for wanting to be paid. But is this the point of college sports?

As we celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, we typically cite participation statistics and recognize how far women have come. But we ought to value the ideological roots of women’s athletics, not as a shameful past of milk-and-cookies patsy play (though it was some of that), but for the wisdom of recognizing the hornet’s nest of unbridled high-stakes competition on what should be the virtues of athletics play in a college environment. The athletic field offers lessons in teamwork, leadership, persistence, skill-development, problem solving.

A study I did with colleagues Allison Tracy, Ph.D. and Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. showed that this message is getting lost. We gave 828 college recruiters a detailed survey to explore how they valued varsity sports experience in judging candidates for entry-level corporate jobs. They saw the obvious--college athletes excelled at teamwork, which they considered a key trait--but did not recognize skills such as time management and organization required to play college sports. Interestingly, they did not rate male or female athletes differently.

Anyone who has called herself an athlete recognizes the personal benefits of sport. Money has become a spoiler in the conversation (heck, Olympic athletes are not “set” financially--far from it). It’s time to see that the payoff of college sports can come without ESPN “Game Day,” academically questionable athletes, or coaches paid far more than the university president.

Find that value on women's teams, in locker rooms, and at games that garner little attention, but build durable skills. Sure it’s embarrassing to recall a beauty “Queen of the Court” crowned at halftime or college contests that mixed opposing players to limit competition and hard feelings. But maybe the men steering the future of college sports should consider the great goods that women and girls have been bringing to the games they play--for years.

Laura Pappano is the writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and an experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports.

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Black History Month Matters: A Personal Reflection

GrandmotherPhotoBlack History Month Matters: A Personal Reflection

When I was a girl, my grandmother Jannie had only two books in her house. One was the Bible, and the other was Carter G. Woodson’s The Negro in Our History. My grandmother was born in 1917 in a sleepy little town called Locust Grove, Georgia. Not far from there, her own grandmother, Phyllis, had been born into slavery and was about 12 when the Emancipation Proclamation set her free. Phyllis gave birth to Laura, my great-grandmother and namesake, and Laura, as the result of a quietly kept sexual assault during her time as a domestic worker in Locust Grove, gave birth to my grandmother, Jannie.

In the early 1930s, Locust Grove didn’t have a high school for Black students due to Jim Crow segregation, so my grandmother left Locust Grove with the proverbial “nickel in her pocket” to move in with her much older stepbrother and his wife in Atlanta. This allowed her to attend the famed Booker T. Washington High School, built in 1924 as the first high school for African American students in the state of Georgia. It was here that Carter G. Woodson’s groundbreaking 1922 text, The Negro in Our History, served as her high school history textbook. After graduating from high school, she kept it, and eventually, after her passing in 1987, it landed in my hands. It has served as one of my most treasured possessions ever since.

Carter G. Woodson is the father of BlaCarter G Woodson Stampck History Month, which began as Negro History Week in 1926. He was an erudite and meticulous scholar who obtained his B.Litt. from Berea College, his M.A. from the University of Chicago, and his doctorate from Harvard University at a time when the pursuit of higher education was extremely fraught for African Americans. Because he made it his mission to collect, compile, and distribute historical data about Black people in America, I like to call him “the original #BlackLivesMatter guy.” His self-declared dual mission was to make sure the African-Americans knew their history and to insure the place of Black history in mainstream U.S. history. This was long before Black history was considered relevant, even thinkable, by most white scholars and the white academy. In fact, he writes in the preface of The Negro in Our History that he penned the book for schoolteachers so that Black history could be taught in schools—and this, just in time for the opening of Washington High School.

Carter G. Woodson’s starting premise was that African American history did not begin with slavery, but rather began in the free and self-organized cultures of the African continent before slavery was even a consideration. So, the first chapter of his copiously illustrated book is titled “The Negro in Africa.” His ending premise was that Black History was central to the pursuit of equality and dignity for people of African descent in America. Hence, his concluding chapter is “The Negro and Social Justice.” In between, he talks about the glorious, creative, and noble actions and contributions of a wide array of African American men and Booker T Washington HSwomen. It enlivens my curiosity to imagine my grandmother Jannie as a young woman learning in school about her own history from Carter G. Woodson’s text, which, at that time was still relatively new, alongside anything else she might have been learning. It saddens me to reflect on the fact that my own post-desegregation high school education, AP History and all, offered no such in-depth overview of Black history, African American or African.

In 1915, Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, a professional organization for Black scholars. A year later, in 1916, he founded the Journal of Negro History, now known as the Journal of African American History—a journal in which I, coincidentally, have published. This year, the organization he founded, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (or ASALH), celebrates its 100th anniversary—in Atlanta, no less. The survival of this organization is a testament to the fact that scholars have played a huge role in the advancement of dignity and justice for people of African descent in the United States, and such Africana studies scholarship itself has often presented the evidence base for the work of social change.

BlogPullQuote2315After finishing high school, my grandmother Jannie, like many of her generation, worked as a domestic for many years. However, after spending time working in the home of a doctor, she was encouraged and went on to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which took two more years of night school. From that point until her death, she worked as a private nurse to aging wealthy Atlantans. This enabled her to make a good, albeit humble, livelihood for herself and her two daughters, along with my great grandmother Laura, who lived with her and served as her primary source of childcare, particularly after her brief marriage to my grandfather, an older man who she found to be overbearing, ended. With this livelihood, she was able to put both her daughters through Spelman College, the nation’s leading African American women’s college, then and now. It stands as a point of pride to our whole family that, although she was unable to attend due to family responsibilities, Jannie herself was also at one time admitted to Spelman College.

When I was growing up, the message from my grandmother was unequivocal: Education, education, education. She singled me out early as the one on whom to be unrelenting with this message, and throughout her life, she went out of her way to contribute to my educational success—everything from the gift of a piano when I was in elementary school so that I would learn music to the gift of new clothes for college when I myself was admitted to Spelman College. Perhaps, most notably, she served as my source of childcare when I had my first child as a junior in colleGrandmothers Headstonege. Sadly, she didn’t live to see me attain my Ph.D., but, when she passed away, I was already pursuing my Masters degree, and, like her, I was also mother to a second child. Thus, when I inherited The Negro in Our History, it was more than a quaint artifact of an earlier era, and more than just a physical symbol of Black History Month. Rather, it was where Black history, women’s history, the pursuit of education, the pursuit of social justice, my own history, and my own destiny met.

Wherever I am in my life, when I need inspiration, sometimes I go to my shelf and pull out The Negro in Our History, and sometimes I go sit at my grandmother’s grave (where she is buried right next to her mother, my namesake, Laura, in Atlanta) and commune with her spirit, offering gratitude. These are not easy times we are living in, I tell her—but neither were mine, she tells me. I made progress, and so will you. Keep going. And through the thread of our connectedness, the long march continues.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. Her scholar-activist work interweaves threads from the social sciences and the critical disciplines, incorporating basic and applied platforms around a common theme of integrating identities and communities in peaceable, ecologically sound, and self-actualizing ways.


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"E" Is for Energy

EnergyBlog“E” Is for Energy

The Dopamine Reward System—Friend or Foe?

Dopamine is trending as the most popular neurotransmitter. And why not? There are days I think it rules the world or at least the day–to-day activities of my friends and family. The craving you have when you smell the coffee brewing in the morning—thank dopamine. That elation you feel throughout your body when you fall hopelessly and deeply in love? Again, dopamine. The thrill of a shopping spree at the mall, the desire for the second and third glass of wine at dinner. You guessed it, dopamine. Dopamine seems to be everywhere giving people a little rush of pleasure and energy when we need it most. So what’s the harm? It’s a natural, biologically based chemical that provides energy and motivation.

The harm is best understood by remembering the infamous rats in Skinner boxes back in the 1950s. Scientists put electrodes into the limbic system (feeling centers) of the rats’ brain and sent a little shock to the area when the rat entered a particular corner. The theory was that if the shock was unpleasant enough it would cause the rat to stay away from the corner. Enough shocks and the rat’s brain would wire the corner with the aversive stimuli. However, a strange and unexpected thing happened when the electrode was placed in the nucleus accumbens (a dopamine pathway that is part of the limbic system)—the rats did just the opposite. Instead of avoiding the corner, they went back to get the shock over and over and over again. Up to 700 times an hour! In fact, this was so compelling to the rats that they opted for the stimulation over food. The rats could not describe “craving “ to us, but certainly, the repetitive nature of their dopamine seeking made it clear that this was something they “needed” to do. The increase in motivation and energy that dopamine provides can be a good thing, but when your brain gets wired to compulsive behaviors that stimulate the dopamine reward pathway (addictions) then your life can be as out of control as the poor rat in Skinner’s Box.

BlogPullQuote1.30.15So dopamine itself is not the problem, nor is the dopamine reward system. Dopamine is simply the carrot on a stick designed to give a reward to life-sustaining activities like eating healthy food, having sex, drinking water, and being held in nurturing relationships so that you would keep doing these healthy things over and over again. The problem is how we stimulate the dopamine pathway. In an ideal world—one that understands the centrality of healthy relationship to health and wellness—the dopamine reward system stays connected to human connection as the primary source of stimulation. Unfortunately, we do not live in this ideal world. We live in a culture that actively undermines this precious dopamine-relationship connection. We raise children to stand on their own two feet while the separate self is an American icon of maturity. It is making us sick.

This disconnection is a set-up for addiction as we search for other sources of dopamine. The “other sources” look shockingly similar to the list of common cultural complaints—overeating and obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, consumerism, chronic hooking up. Not only do these addictive, destructive behaviors get paired to the dopamine reward system but they create a feedback loop of isolation that pushes people towards more addictions.

Without healthy relationships we each become like the rats in Skinners box—seeking dopamine from all the wrong places. Let’s rewire our brains for the healthy relationships and connections that reward us with positive energy and motivation.

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).


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"R" is for Resonance

resonanceblog"R" is for Resonance

The Four R’s – Reading, ’Riting, ’Rithmetic, and Resonance

Do you have someone in your life that “gets” you? I do. My friend Angel and I see each other every six weeks or so but each time we get together I am struck by the resonance we share, the ability to jump back into a conversation as if no time has passed. How does that happen? When I heard about the discovery of mirror neurons I thought I had found the answer.

First discovered by accident in 1998 by scientists studying arm movements in monkeys, mirror neurons were originally described as individual, specialized brain cells with the sole purpose to help us “get” or read other people. They were thought to be unique among brain cells because of their ability to multitask—registering actions, feelings and sensations all in a single specialized cell. I loved this! My heart already believed that relationships were central to health and wellness and these mirror neurons could be the proof my brain needed to believe that humans are “hardwired to connect.” But, even as I was sharing the news with others, I felt a little worried. How could Angel and I click so easily when I struggled with many other relationships in my life?

Also, when I looked at my friends and family, I noticed I was not alone. Everyone I know has some variability in his or her capacity to read others and to be read. So, if we’re hardwired to connect, what explains the variability? Is people-reading something we learn how to do or are we blessed with the hardware to automatically understand what others close to us are doing or feeling? Turns out, it’s both.

As babies, we are born with reflexes to connect with others. Watch an infant for a few minutes and you can see the vast amount of energy devoted to connection. The wiggling and writhing invested in finding the nipple of a full breast, the waving of a tiny, unsteady hand in search of a finger to wrap around or the neck to grab hold of. These reflexes are a pretty good start for connection, but, are not nuanced enough to allow an infant to “read the room.” A baby may become fussy when held by a distracted, tense mother but could not “know” the mother arrived home from work exhausted and irritable after being up all night working on an important presentation.

Researchers are now describing a mirror neuron system rather than unique mirror neurons. This is a more complex, efficient, and coordinated wiring of existing of neural pathways that communicate the actions feelings, and sensations of those around us. It is the way these pathways become interconnected through experience that really counts in clicking with others and making sense of relationships. Imitation plays a key role. Each of us literally “knows” other people by mimicking them internally. This mimicking is concrete. If I watch you walk toward the door with your hand out, I “spontaneously and automatically “know you are going to open the door and leave. I do not need to ask. BlogPullQuote1.22.15Deep in my brain, the area in the prefrontal cortex that plans and executes the physical movement of walking out the door is being stimulated. Though I am not moving, the same nerve cells are firing. When you touch the door and pull your hand away quickly and shake it a little I “know” that the door was quite hot from the pounding sunshine on the glass. My somatosensory cortex that creates sensations fires and my hand feels a low-grade sense of heat and smoothness from the window window. That is added to the immediate mix of how I am reading your experience. And finally, you walk through the door and a large smile crosses your face as you fall into the arms of a loved one. In my brain and body the nerve signal has now traveled through the insula into my “feeling centers” in my body and I feel a similar joy and lightness. I “know” you are with someone you love. All of this has happened in the blink of an eye and without you sharing any of your experience with me. My brain and body uses itself as a template to have a shared experience with you and the closer our life experiences internally have been, the more resonant we feel.

But imitating is not the whole story. Grown-ups must name feelings and experiences accurately when you are little so that when you name them in others later they match. You fall down and skin your knee and your parent says, “Ouch, that hurts.” The pain in your knee and the tears running down your face are paired with being hurt. A friend knocks over your block tower and the energy surging through your body and the tension in your eyebrows and face gets paired with a teacher saying, “You feel angry because Tom knocked over your blocks.” It seems like an easy process except that many people don’t know what feelings feel like in their body. Even as adults, well-meaning parents can mislabel a child’s experience and potentially confuse the development of the mirror neuron system.

Here’s an example. Ten years ago my pre-school aged twins and I were in a terrifying accident. I had driven the one-mile route to school mindlessly for a couple of years. On this day, as we approached a four-way intersection, another van turned left and hit us almost head on. Both vans were totaled and immediately chaos ensued. The front airbags in our car deployed filling up most of the front seat and giving off a pungent, rubber smell; the engine hissed and sent water and steam spraying into the air. Within minutes the local rescue teams arrived en masse—fire, police, and ambulance sped to the accident with blaring sirens and lights. In the midst of the overstimulation, I crawled into the back seat and looked directly into the trusting, scared faces of my children and said, “Everything is fine”—a delusional thought if ever I had one. My son looked right back at me and said, “Everything is not fine, this is a bad accident. “ A reality check for sure, I immediately backtracked and agreed that it was a bad accident and that it was scary.

We develop these pathways for accurate reading in the context of being accurately read by others! When I tell my children everything is fine at the same time their bodies are registering that things are dangerous, their developing people-reading pathways are getting a mixed message. Done often enough, as is often the case with childhood trauma or domestic violence, and the person’s mirror neuron system wires in an inaccurate and confusing way. They drift into isolation as their capacity for resonance is diminished.

A cultural belief that human development should be towards increased levels of separation and individuation can create a mirror neuron system that is not accurate. If I am busy “hiding my feelings” from you for fear of being seen as weak or needy, or if I believe that being impacted by another person’s feelings or experiences diminishes my strength, then chances are my mirror neuron system is not getting the stimulation needed to develop the essential human capacity of resonating and reading others and being read. And the impact of this is far reaching. Human beings are built to be healthiest in mind and body when in strong connections with others. Connection and cooperation are part of the everyday lives of most people and a strong mirror neuron system is essential in each and every one of life’s negotiations. It is high time that we add the fourth “R” to the basic skills taught in education—reading, ‘riting, ’rithmetic, and resonance!

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).


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On King Day, Thinking about Social Movement

mlk-quoteOn King Day, Thinking about Social Movement

The past year has generated national and international soul searching on the theme of social movement. In the U.S., events as diverse as the multiple police shootings of unarmed Black men, the killings of police officers on patrol, domestic violence incidents involving professional athletes, and misogynistic serial killings of women, have left us wondering who we are as a nation. Around the world, events such as the mass kidnapping of African schoolgirls, the shootings of journalists in Europe, and the rise of religious extremist violence in general, have shocked and outraged us. Many people are wondering what forms of mobilization can be effective in today’s world. We scratch our heads over the fact that, while obvious progress has been made on many social justice fronts, new and worse hate-based acts of violence – indeed, new horrors – seem to crop up every day and everywhere. There is a tendency, quite natural and laudable, to reach back for familiar forms of social movement – such as protest – and to update them (for example, through social media). But is this enough and, more importantly, is it really effective? Is this really all we can do? In honor of the great visionary thinker and agent of social transformation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy we celebrate today, I have a few thoughts.

I’d like to begin with a premise, perhaps controversial: We have no enemies. No matter how much we dislike or disagree with someone else’s point of view, we are still brothers and sisters. No matter how gravely someone crosses a line we would not cross or commits an act we see as unconscionable, we are still part of one human family. Admittedly, this is difficult. For starters, it is natural to recoil from things that offend our sensibilities, through whatever process of socialization we came to hold those sensibilities. Stated differently, we have to work to try to understand things that are outside our ken of acceptability. But, I argue, this work is worth it, because it makes possible the beginnings of dialogue – dialogue that can bring us together, ultimately transforming hearts and minds. Without the attempt to understand someone else’s point of view, dialogue never begins. Yet, once dialogue commences, transformative points of commonality can be discovered, leading to social change. Sometimes it is just the simple, everyday act of talking with someone that one might not otherwise talk to that launches the chain reaction of change.

BlogPullQuote1.19.15The story of Xernona Clayton and Calvin Craig bears this out beautifully. Xernona Clayton was a civil rights activist who worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside Dr. King, and, in 1967, she became the first Black woman in the Southeast to have her own television show, The Xernona Clayton Show. Around this same time, she was appointed by then Mayor of Atlanta, Ivan Allen, as community affairs director for the Model Cities program. There she met Calvin Craig, a heavy equipment operator who happened also to be the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and the chair of the Model Cities program in one of the five communities within her jurisdiction. “I don’t know how you’re all going to get along,” the Mayor told Clayton. She said, “I don’t run away from people.” At one of their meetings, Clayton daringly and only half-jokingly told Craig that, “Before this project is over, I’ll not only have you eating at my house, I’ll have you eating out of my hand!”

Over the course of a convivial relationship, they found common cause in their Christianity (both belonged to Baptist denominations) and a shared sense of humor. To everyone’s surprise, in 1968, shortly before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Calvin Craig publicly announced that he was leaving the Klan because his views had changed. He credited his change of heart to his friendship with Xernona Clayton. Clayton was poised to introduce Craig to Martin Luther King, Jr., who, after some hesitancy, agreed to meet with the man, but fate would not have it, as King was assassinated just days later in Memphis. The night of King’s death, Craig came to King’s home to pay respects. Afraid or ashamed to approach the door, he stood in the yard until someone gave the message to Mrs. Coretta Scott King that Craig was there. She invited him in, but still Craig refused – perhaps his own way of showing respect for Dr. King.

Craig’s obituary reveals that, over time, he would again both join and denounce the Klan. However, an interview with his daughter, Gail Craig Myers, reveals the extent to which Calvin Craig was transformed by his friendship with Xernona Clayton. To quote Myers, speaking of Xernona Clayton, “[Y]ou healed my father and cleansed our family.” This is a strong statement of transformation – a testament to the power of friendship, and a testimony to the power of non-oppositional approaches to social justice and social change, and to the healing power of racial amity – America’s “other tradition” – as a framework for shifting race relations. It is also a testament to the power of everyday acts that change hearts and minds – a reminder that we cannot rely solely on politics and policy if we truly want enduring peace and justice.

So, on this King Day, I am asking you to consider with me the power of connection, the power of reaching out – beyond our comfort zones – to acknowledge one another’s full humanity and to try, in a new way, to build the world that we’d like to live in. I’m asking us to imagine activism without enemies – to never lose sight of the fact that, no matter how hard things get, we are all in this together. It is certainly an extension of Dr. King’s legacy, enlarging the “Beloved Community” to ultimately include all of us. I dare everyone of us to try it and see where we are this time next year!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. Her scholar-activist work interweaves threads from the social sciences and the critical disciplines, incorporating basic and applied platforms around a common theme of integrating identities and communities in peaceable, ecologically sound, and self-actualizing ways.

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"A" Is for Accepted

AisforAccept“A” is for Accepted

I was many things at ten years old, but one thing I wasn't was accepted. My family moved to a new town that summer—it was 1972—and on the first day of school when the school bell rang I stood in the middle of the girls’ line anxiously waiting to meet my new classmates. As I was studying my shoes I heard the laughter and the whispering, “What is that new boy doing in the girls line!” They were talking about me, well-dressed in boys clothing. I was humiliated, filled with shame, desperate to go back to my old school where people knew and accepted me. It was a long year of pain, accentuated by my teacher who routinely tried to force me to join the Girl Scouts.

This memory popped back into my mind when I first discovered social pain overlap theory (SPOT) by Eisenberger and Lieberman at UCLA. These researchers study the brain in social situations. They devised a clever experiment during which people were asked to join a virtual cyberball game on a computer screen. As the game progresses, the research subject is attached to a functional brain imaging machine. Now, being left out of a cyberball toss experiment where you do not even know or see the other players is nothing compared to my year of ridicule and ostracism in fifth grade, nor does it compare to the many forms of being socially rejected from bullying, to racism and homophobia, but still, this rather mild social exclusion told these researchers something very important: Being left out hurts most people. They feel uncomfortable, unsettled, irritated… distressed. The next step was to see what area of the brain was activated with this distress.

BlogPullQuote1.15.15This is where the story gets really interesting. The area that lit up when a subject was excluded is a strip of brain called the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus (dACC). The dACC already had been mapped as the area of the brain that is activated when a person is distressed by physical pain. To humans, being socially excluded is so important that it uses the same neurological pathways used to register when you are in danger from a physical injury or illness. Remember the old saying, “sticks and stones will break your bones and names will never hurt you”? Not true. It should have been “sticks and stones will break you bones and names will hurt you too!”

The human nervous system has evolved to be held within the safety of safe relationships. When we drift away from our group or are pushed out, when we are ridiculed, bullied, or shunned it creates real pain. This happens to individuals within groups and to groups of people within the larger society. SPOT theory confirms that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones—but it also tells us that we all live in glass houses, we are all vulnerable to the pain of being left out. It is simply how we are wired.

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).


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"C" Is for Calm--Four Ways to Click

blog1.5“C” is for Calm—Four Ways to Click

Twenty-five years ago, when I was studying the human nervous system in medical school, I learned that the body has an automatic system running in the back ground 24/7—the autonomic nervous system—like the system that runs in the back ground of your computer updating time and date without needing to be asked. I was taught that the autonomic nervous system had two branches with opposite functions. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) keeps you awake, alert, and engaged in life when it is running at a steady level, while the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) helps you relax and rejuvenate yourself after a period of activity.

In popular science the SNS and the PNS are associated with their most dramatic functions—the fight, flight, or freeze responses that are activated when a person is threatened. If a bear charges you on a hike or your boss yells at you at work, bam, your SNS fires causing energy and blood flow to be diverted to your large muscles, heart, and lungs. You automatically assess the situation and either gear up for a fight or run like hell away from the threat. On the other hand, if you come across a mother bear with her cubs and she is standing over you ready to pounce and there is nowhere to run or your spouse comes home drunk and mean again and has a history of attacking you, your parasympathetic nervous system might activate causing you to freeze and even fall on the spot as your heart and respiratory rate decrease dramatically and your body’s pain BlogPullQuote1.5.15killers flood your system buffering the pain. Neither of these reactions are under your conscious control. You are automatically protected.

What happens, though, when what you are facing is a kind, welcoming face or your favorite pet? Do you need to then rely on conscious functioning, do you need to think about it before you act and engage? According to Stephen Porges, the answer is “non.” He has discovered a third branch of the autonomic nervous system—one he calls the smart vagus nerve—that innervates the muscles in the face, throat, vocal chords, even the tiny muscles in your inner ear. The smart vagus balances the SNS and PNS and gives us automatic responses to safety. Imagine meeting your best friend—chances are your mouth breaks into a smile, your eyebrows raise, and you tune in and listen a little more attentively. You share stories and maybe even eat a meal together. All of these activities stimulate the smart vagus nerve which travels to the heart and lungs and tells the SNS and PNS they are not needed. You feel calmer.

The capacity to feel calm in a healthy relationship is as natural and automatic as the ability to feel terrified in Friday the 13th. It is how we are wired. A culture that teaches “self-regulation” and finding comfort by standing on your own two feet over stimulates your SNS making it harder to recognize a healthy connection. In Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships you can evaluate your neural pathways for connection and strategize ways to rebalance your autonomic nervous system to help you feel responsive and less reactive in your healthiest relationships.

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).


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2014 Round-up

2014RoundupA 2014 Round-up

Below are links to two articles from good friends of the Wellesley Centers for Women—Susan McGee Bailey and Alex Sanger. Susan is the former, long-time executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW); Alex is chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the WCW Council of Advisors. In their respective blog articles, they share their perspectives on the year 2014.

In her latest piece on Girl w/ Pen, Susan writes, "Hanukkah, then Christmas next week, followed by the start of a new year—a time of hope and beginnings. Why doesn’t it feel that way? For the past several days I’ve been searching for the bright spots. The ones that can provide the energy we need in the midst of so much darkness. Not an easy task. Each day new horrors erupt: the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre and still no reasonable national gun control legislation; free passes for racial biases and deadly police brutality; the sickening slaughter of school children in Pakistan; ongoing revelations of rape in the US military and on university campuses. Negative news can so easily obliterate positive signs in the struggles for equal rights. But all around us there is tangible evidence of the many ways feminist work contributes to positive progress for everyone... You can read the full article online.

In his latest piece on Huffington Post, Alex writes, "Once again, we've had a year of ups and downs, a year of strong stands for women's rights and crushing defeats. Here's a quick run-down of some of the most memorable moments of 2014. Last month, the Chamber of Deputies in the Dominican Republic put forward a measure to reinforce—and strengthen—the country's existing ban on abortions in all circumstances. Thankfully, Dominican President Danilo Medina vetoed the measure, urging legislators in a letter to decriminalize abortions in cases where the woman's life is at risk or in cases of rape, incest, or fetus malformation. " You can read the full article online.

What do you think have been notable events or moments of the past year? Share with us!

The mission of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing through high quality research, theory, and action programs. Since 1974, work has generated changes in attitudes, practices, and public policy.

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The Greying of the LGBTQ Community

LGBTblogThe Greying of the LGBTQ Community

October was LGBTQ History Month. We should continue to celebrate, reflect, and get back to work!

It has been less than 50 years since Stonewall, the start of the current LGBTQ Rights Movement. There have been trials and tribulations, along with celebrations. Today, over 30 states grant same-sex couples the right to marry legally. Today, social acceptability has permeated society (Pew Research Center, 2011). Today, groups, businesses, and academic institutions supporting LGBT rights and LGBTQ youth, all with the message of equity and equality, have increased exponentially (HRC, 2014). Curriculum teaching about inclusiveness is making schools safer and more hospitable than they were even 5 years ago.

These accomplishments are certainly remarkable considering a mere 50 years ago homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Gay people feared getting fired from their jobs and, often, only a suspicion of homosexual behavior was enough. Religions condemned homosexuality as an abomination, an affront to the natural order of things. And AIDS meant social isolation and certain death.

With so many improvements in equality and rights for LGBTQ communities since Stonewall, one might wonder what else there is left to do. One area that is unaddressed and under-researched is the challenges LGBT elderly people face. More than six million LGBTQ individuals will be in the “65+” age bracket by 2030 (SAGE, 2014). This, of course, provides some trepidations -- and opportunities—for LGBTQ communities, policymakers, and the general population.

BlogPullQuote11.2.14In the last couple of years, more research has surfaced regarding LGBTQ elderly people, which provides a sobering look at their attitudes and thoughts about aging. The first and obvious concern is aging in a society and community that places a high value on youth, leaving the elderly feeling useless and insignificant (Fox, 2007). This is both within the LGBTQ communities and in the general population. Ageism is pervasive in the U.S.

The second concern is discrimination or perceived discrimination at long-term facilities and healthcare institutions. SAGE (2014) reported 40% of lesbian and gay elderly people do not tell healthcare providers they are homosexual, and healthcare providers just assume they are heterosexual. Moreover, in long-term care settings same-sex couples are denied same-space living arrangements more often than heterosexual couples (Stein, Beckerman & Sherman, 2010). In other words, heterosexism entitles you to live your life with your significant other, especially in the final years.

A final concern is that LGBT elders worry about financial insolvency more often and believe they will not be able to retire or will outlive the meager retirement savings they have. In addition, current retirees have lived through years of employment discrimination (SAGE, 2014). Even today, there are still some states that don’t ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in their employment discrimination laws (HRC, 2014). About 15% of LGBT women and men 65 or older live in poverty, compared to only 10% of heterosexual men (Table 4; Badgett, Durso, & Schneebaum, 2013). In couples over 65, female same-sex couples are almost twice as likely as heterosexual couples, or male same-sex couples, to be low-income, reflecting the double impact of women’s lower earnings compared to men(Table 9; Badgett, Durso, & Schneebaum, 2013).

October’s LGBTQ History Month is about celebration, reflection, and work. We should celebrate that elderly couples are now, legally, entitled to their married spouses Social Security benefits when one spouse dies. Moreover, we should celebrate that the Affordable Healthcare Act is providing many people, especially transgender older adults, with needed healthcare. Finally, we should celebrate that LGBTQ issues are being discussed and acknowledged with the federal, state, and local agencies. In the span of less than 50 years, LGBTQ communities have gone from despised to celebrated and are seen as important members of the global community. Reflection comes as we realize there is more to be done to truly create equality for all members of society.

Let’s get back to work. We need to call members of Congress and demand that they pass the Older Americans Act (the premier elder care law) with LGBTQ elders added to the definition of vulnerable populations. We must call on state and local decision makers to pass anti-discrimination laws and create new minimum wage laws, so that pay is equalized for males and females, LGBT and heterosexual, gender conforming or nonconforming. Furthermore, let’s do what we do best, continue to initiate meaningful discussions on heterosexism, sexism, and ageism.

Brian Fuss, M.P.A., a Research Fellow at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, is working on his doctorate in Public Policy and Administration. The working title of his dissertation is Public Policy Recommendations for Florida’s LGBT Elderly Population Residing in Rural and Suburban Areas.

Additional References:

Fox, R.C. (2007) Gay grows up, Journal of Homosexuality, 52, 33-61. DOI:10.1300/J082v52n03_03

Stein, G. L., Beckerman, N. L., & Sherman, P.A. (2010). Lesbian and gay elders and long-term care: Identifying the unique psychosocial perspectives and challenges. Journal of Gerontological Social Work 53, 421-435. DOI:10.1080/01634372.2010.496478

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Seeking LGBT Parents in History

ssparentsSeeking LGBT Parents in History

Opponents of LGBT equality often try to make LGBT parents seem like a new and untested phenomenon, and therefore something to be avoided. The history of LGBT parents and our children, however, goes back further than one might think.

The Greek poet Sappho, whose island home of Lesbos gave us the term “lesbian,” may have had a daughter named “Cleis.” That would mean that the history of LGBT parents goes back to around 600 BCE.

The existence of her daughter is only attested through a few fragments, though, making it far from certain. It’s also anachronistic to apply modern identity terms to historical figures, even such a lesbian icon as Sappho. The possibility of her existence, however, should encourage us to reflect that the history of parents who fall under a broad LGBT umbrella (not tied to modern conceptions of the terms) likely goes back as far as the history of LGBT people as a whole. They may not have been “out and proud” like many modern LGBT parents, but we can still see them as their forebears.

Sticking with better documented cases, Oscar Wilde was the father of two boys with his wife Constance Lloyd, and apparently a loving one. His son Vyvyan, in his book Son of Oscar Wilde, wrote about Wilde’s relationship with him and his brother, “He was a hero to us both. . . . a real companion to us. . . . He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.” Alas, when the boys were eight and nine, their mother took them to Switzerland after Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” (having same-sex relations) and they never saw him again.

BlogPullQuote10.28.14Vita Sackville-West had relationships with several women, including fellow writers Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis, and had two children with her husband, Harold George Nicolson (who also had same-sex relationships). Her son Nigel Nicolson later used her account of the affair with Trefusis as the heart of a book about his parents, Portrait of a Marriage. There, he called his mother’s description of the affair “one of the most moving pieces that she ever wrote.” While he acknowledged both parents’ same-sex relationships, he also said their marriage “became stronger and finer as a result.” Their love affairs were mere “ports of call,” but it was “to the harbour that each returned.” Nevertheless, it is easy to see Nicolson as the product of parents who fall under the broad LGBT umbrella, and to place another brushstroke in our picture of LGBT family history.

Looking only at parents who had a more modern sense of their LGBT identities, out LGBT parents go back to the very start of the LGBT civil rights movement. Most still had their children within the context of different-sex marriages, but were more likely than in earlier times to leave those marriages, even though this often meant losing custody of their children. Del Martin, one of the founders in 1955 of Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization in the U.S., was one such parent. Not surprisingly, her organization held some of the first known discussion groups on lesbian motherhood—way back in 1956. (See Daniel Winunwe Rivers’ Radical Relations, which I reviewed in the Women’s Review of Books earlier this year.)

Even the term “gayby boom”—referring to same-sex couples starting their families together—is already over two decades old, dating to at least March 1990, when Newsweek reported, “a new generation of gay parents has produced the first-ever ‘gayby boom.’” That means that many of the children from that boom are themselves now adults—while many of the first generation of out parents are becoming grandparents.

Think of it this way: the fictional Heather who had two mommies was in preschool in Lesléa Newman’s classic 1989 children’s book. If she were real, she’d now be in her late 20s.

Those who continue to insist that LGBT parents are not good for children have failed to realize that if that were true (even leaving aside the extensive social science research to the contrary), there would be many more maladjusted adults running around. Analyses from UCLA’s Williams Institute have found that currently, between 2.3 and 4 million adults have an LGBT parent. If they suffered harm because of that, someone surely would have noticed the connection by now.

As a lesbian mom, I believe that learning the history of LGBT parents and their children can also help us feel less alone, less like we are the first to face each challenge. Having confidence that others have succeeded before us can translate into confidence in our parenting skills, which in turn can positively impact our children.

Knowing the struggles—and triumphs—of LGBT parents in the past can also give us hope and strength in overcoming the challenges—legal, political, social, and emotional—that we still face.

And seeing how the early organizations for LGBT parents helped shape the overall LGBT rights movement of today (a story told in Rivers’ book and in the 2006 documentary Mom’s Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mothers’ Custody Movement) can inspire us to keep contributing to that broader effort, even as we balance the demands of work and family.

LGBT History Month for this year may be drawing to a close, but the work of exploring our history must continue.

Dana Rudolph is the online content manager for the National SEED Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is also the founder and publisher of Mombian, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and associated newspaper column for lesbian moms and other LGBT parents. She has a BA summa cum laude from Wellesley College and an M.Phil in Modern History from Oxford University.

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Let's Talk about Sex

middleschoolkidsLet’s Talk about Sex

October is Let’s Talk Month, part of a national campaign to encourage families to talk with teens about sex and relationships. In March 2013, I shared tips on how parents can talk with their teens about sex. Today, I’m going to pass on some reasons why talking with middle schoolers about sex is important and how this may support younger teens’ health.

Here’s what’s important to know:

Almost one-third of teens have sex by 9th grade. A recent nationwide study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 28% of girls and 32% of boys reported having had sex by the 9th grade.

Early sex puts teens at risk for poor school and health outcomes. Teens who have sex at an early age are more likely to drop out of school, get a sexually transmitted infection, or have an unintended pregnancy than teens who wait until they are older to have sex.

Talking with teens about sex can make a difference. Parents talking with teens about sex and relationships can make it more likely that teens will wait to have sex and, when they do have sex, that they will use protection.

BlogPullQuote10.22.14It’s important to talk with teens before they have sex. Research tells us that it is critical for teens to learn about sexual issues from a trusted adult before they have sex.

Here's what we learned from our evaluation of Get Real,* a comprehensive middle school sex education program:

    Sex education that supports parent-teen conversations about sex and relationships can help to delay sex. In schools where the Get Real sex education program was taught, 16% fewer boys and 15% fewer girls had sex compared to boys and girls in schools that taught sex education as usual. This means that sex education during middle school can support teens’ sexual health.

    Don’t forget to talk with your sons about sex! Boys who completed Get Real family activities in the 6th grade—which focused on a wide range of issues, from anatomy to relationship values—were more likely to delay sex in 8th grade than boys who didn’t complete them. Many parents talk with their daughters about sex earlier and more often than their sons. Talking with sons early and often can help to support their sexual health, too.

Communication is key! Let’s Talk!

Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D. is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She co-directed an evaluation of a middle school sex education curriculum and leads a project investigating sex communication in the nuclear family and beyond and the implications for health interventions.

* Get Real: Comprehensive Sex Education That Works is a middle school program, developed by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, that delivers accurate, age-appropriate information and emphasizes healthy relationship skills and family involvement.


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Brave New Girls -- a timely repost

MYPeacePrizePhotoBrave New Girls:

Let’s Celebrate U.N. International Day of the Girl by Supporting the Malala Yousafzais of Our World

This article was originally posted on October 11, 2012 on the Women Change Worlds blog. Today, Malala Yousafzai, was named a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has also been awarded the National Youth Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize, and the Simone de Beauvoir Prize.

I’ll bet that when the Taliban decided to fire their guns at 14-year old Malala Yousafzai, it didn’t occur to them that they might be making her the cause celebre of the U.N. International Day of the Girl, which is October 11th. Although the Taliban might argue otherwise, Malala is everything a girl should be – intelligent, inquisitive, bold, brave, and a concerned, aware world citizen. She embodies and dares to live up to that oft-repeated maxim, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What does it say about us when the global war on women – the ages-old attempt to keep women down through violence, silencing, discrimination, and worse – stoops down to attack young girls who haven’t even yet reached womanhood? I say “us,” because, on some level, we are all accountable for the collective consciousness that excuses violence against women in its many shapeshifting forms. No country, no population, is immune. Whenever something like this happens – something terrible and obvious, like the attack on Malala Yousafzai – all of us should stop in our tracks and ask ourselves, what am I doing that keeps the tacit acceptance of violence against women – and now girls – alive in the world…and how can I change that??

Malala Yousaufzai has been fighting for girls’ education in Pakistan.  Girls all over the world deserve education, and even though some challenging impediments have been identified by researchers and others, there is no excuse in this day and age for girls to be kept from schooling. None. The U.N. has made girls education a tenet (in Targets 2 and 3, to be specific) of its Millennium Development Goals – and in case you were wondering, we only have three more years, until 2015, before we are expected to achieve them. Malala Yousafzai is in a position to challenge the rest of us as women’s activist Audre Lorde famously did when she wrote, “I’m doing my work … are you doing yours??”

What are we doing to help Malala Yousafzai’s dream – and MDGs 2 and 3 – to become a reality? Not only in Pakistan, but everywhere, all over the world, including the United States, many girls still languish, along with their male peers, in indecently substandard schools and where staggering rates of sexual harassment and violence negatively impact social-emotional development and learning. The issue of a right to education doesn’t just apply to developing nations – it applies, too, in the developed world where different subpopulations often have differential access to a good education. We must look outward and inward as we reflect on these questions.

Girl activists like Malala are becoming more common and more visible in their efforts to create that “another world” that’s so famously “possible” – a world in which they would like to live, a world that will not only welcome their talents, their full participation, and their leadership, but also a world that will keep them safe and healthy, upholding their dignity and equality. In the United States, for example, I think of girls like Mary Pat Hector who, at age 10, founded Youth in Action USA (she’s now 14, like Malala) to fight violence in her community and communities nationwide. Her organization, which now boasts chapters in seven U.S. states, encourages children to get involved in change through volunteerism, peace rallies, and community advocacy trainings. I also think of girls like Hannah Salwen who, also at age 14, authored The Power of Half as a way to generate social-change
brave-new-girlscapital. It was witnessing homelessness in her city that inspired her to figure out how she and her family could make a real difference, and her “power of half” principle has since become a movement.

Malala, Mary Pat, Hannah, and so many more… These are girls who can’t wait – who are taking the bull of the global conditions they care about by the horns – perhaps because they don’t trust us to do it for them, or perhaps because they are simply aware of their own power and genius. Whatever the case may be, we must support them and help them build the brave new world that they would like to grow up in, because the world they envision is not just a world that will be good for them, it’s a world that will be better for everyone.

The U.N. International Day of the Girl is our opportunity not only to celebrate girls, but also to listen to them, lift them up, and ask them what they need from us to do more of the good that they are doing. I could have spent this column railing against the Taliban and the outrage of their violent attack, but how much better to highlight the work of Malala Yousafzai and girls like her. Let’s celebrate the International Day of the Girl by joining them and supporting them in their audacious, courageous work to change the world!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.


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Supportive Human Relationships: Often Overlooked in Our Search for Quick Fixes

OctABblogSupportive Human Relationships: Often Overlooked in Our Search for Quick Fixes

October 10th is Mental Health Awareness Day.

We live in a time of easy access and quick fixes. People expect to be able to stream a video in less than 60 seconds, to have the entire written history of the world at their fingertips, even to have a complete dinner delivered in under 30 minutes. Given the mind-numbing pace of life, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by my clients’ impatience and disappointment when I offer an antidepressant to treat disabling anxiety or severe depression that takes three to six weeks to kick in. Just 100 years ago they would be resigned to a life of tormenting melancholia. Sure, there are new treatments on the horizon that promise quicker response times. Maybe ketamine will be the Netflix of mental health treatment. Most people overlook the one thing that unequivocally helps our emotional and physical health--supportive human relationships.

The fact that healthy human relationships are central to all human growth and development is not self-evident in a culture that values and promotes separating from and competing with others as the pinnacle of maturity. But research now shows the BlogPullQuote10.3.14human nervous system is literally wired to function best when in healthy relationships. If you do not believe it, try a very simple experiment to see and feel the impact of healthy relationships on your mind and body. Close your eyes and think about a positive interaction you have had with a friend or partner. As you play it out in your mind, watch how your body changes. Most people describe an openness in their chest, a smile forming on their face, a lift in their mood. This simple visualization, something I call a positive relational moment, allows you to tap into the healing physiology of connection and changes your neural chemistry just as clearly as Ativan or Prozac--but with fewer side effects! In honor of National Mental Health Day, reach out to others, engage in healthy interactions, and build new positive relational moments. It is perhaps the ultimate win-win in this culture of competition.

Amy Banks, M.D., is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of Four Ways to Click: Rewiring your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships, forthcoming from Penguin Random House (Feb. 2015).


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Let’s Celebrate ALL Students during National School Success Month

sept2014blogimageLet’s Celebrate ALL Students during National School Success Month

September is National School Success month, a time when parents are focused on helping their children begin a positive start to the new school year. At this time I urge you to consider those children who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to succeed academically because of exposure to early adversity and trauma. WCW has begun a research partnership with The Home for Little Wanderers, a child and family services agency in Massachusetts that was founded in 1799 and provides a continuum of care for 4,000 children annually. Children served who are most at risk are those in foster care and/or enrolled in The Home’s residential educational settings. These students have experienced significant trauma and neglect, and have complex psychological and educational needs. Posttraumatic stress (PTSD) symptoms as a result of toxic stress may inhibit their capacity for learning, interfering with the ability to maintain attention, disrupting cognitive processes and memory, increasing hypervigilance and reactivity that present as behavioral problems, and too often leaving students with a feeling of hopelessness for the future. These are students at high risk for dropping out of school, despite their intellectual capabilities.

Together, the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and The Home for Little Wanderers are dedicated to better understanding the barriers that get in the way of BlogPullQuote9.19.14academic success for students who have experienced early adversity and what classroom and therapeutic supports are most helpful for bolstering learning. Special education services for these students are provided by licensed teachers, dedicated and knowledgeable staff who have been trained in evidence-based approaches for PTSD treatment. Psychologists and educators are learning more about the elasticity of the brain and about efficacy for certain strength-based mental health supports, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Yet, there is much research to be done to understand how exactly these early traumatic experiences influence brain development and cognitive processes. In our initial collaborative investigation, presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention this past August, WCW and The Home researchers found that students with a greater number of various traumatic experiences also had more severe PTSD symptoms, and in addition, these PTSD symptoms were associated with students’ ratings of impairment in doing their schoolwork. Over time some students showed decreases in PTSD symptoms and its interference with schoolwork. As we move forward in our collaborative research, our aim is to increase knowledge about predictors of these patterns of improvement so that more students have opportunities for success.

Michelle Porche, Ed.D is an associate director at the Wellesley Centers for Women and senior research scientist studying academic achievement for young children and adolescents. In her investigations of achievement, the role of gender and socio-emotional factors, including childhood adversity, play a major part in her work.

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Suicide Prevention: The Depression Link

depressedteenSuicide Prevention: The Depression Link

This is a repost from an article originally published on this blog September 6, 2013.

National Suicide Prevention Week (September 8-14) is a time to both raise awareness of suicide as a national public health issue, and to think critically about how suicide can be prevented. In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents (Hoyert & Xu, 2012), and, in 2011, nearly 16 percent of adolescents in the United States reported seriously considering suicide. When thinking about preventing adolescent suicide, it is important to consider factors that increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, such as depression. Suicidal thinking is a symptom of depression, and over half of the adolescents who completed suicide had a mood disorder at the time (Bridge, Goldstein & Brent, 2006; Nock et al., 2013). Fortunately, a number of researchers have developed empirically-supported interventions to prevent the onset of depression in teens, and prevention efforts that target adolescents at risk for depression may ultimately prove helpful in preventing suicidal behaviors as well. During this national week of suicide prevention awareness, it is important to recognize the link between depressive illness and suicide in youth, and the promising role of depression prevention in potentially preventing suicidal behavior.

Most of us bring our children to see their doctors annually, because prevention-focused well-child care is a cornerstone of pediatric practice. Unfortunately, prevention is generally not part of the equation when it comes to youth mental health. With limited health care dollars and limited mental health resources available, clinicians and policymakers tend to focus on alleviating mental health concerns once they arise. Yet research suggests that many young people do NOT get treatment for mental health concerns once they arise, and mental health concerns, such as depression, are associated not only with suicide risk, but also with long-term adverse impacts on educational attainment, relationship functioning, risk of substance abuse, and future depressive episodes, even among those who receive treatment. Moreover, of those teens who DO receive treatment for depression, only about half fully recover and, among those who do recover, relapse is quite common.

BlogPullQuote9.6Treating youth depression once it emerges may be much more distressing, and much less effective, than identifying early symptoms of illness and treating them before they develop into a full-blown disorder. Prevention approaches have the potential to reach a large number of adolescents, and may be more acceptable than treatment because services can be rendered in non-clinical settings (e.g., schools, primary care settings), and do not require adolescents to identify themselves as ill.

So how can adolescent depression be prevented? The core of many depression prevention programs is resilience. Not all adolescents with risk factors for depression develop the disorder; the ones who do not develop depression are resilient, which means they have the emotional skills and/or the social supports to “bounce back” from adversity. Many programs to prevent adolescent depression are designed to teach coping and emotional regulation skills, and/or to strengthen supportive relationships, in order to provide youth at elevated risk with the tools they need to be resilient.

Research on the prevention of youth depression is quite encouraging! For example, in our longitudinal, multi-site study of adolescents at risk for depression, we found that teens who participated in a group cognitive-behavioral prevention program were less likely to experience a depressive disorder at nine- (Garber et al., 2009) and 32- (Beardslee et al., in press) months follow-up, relative to at-risk teens who were assigned to a treatment-as-usual control group. Likewise, our colleagues working on the Penn Resiliency Project have found that children and adolescents who participate in their school-based cognitive-behavioral program are less likely to experience depressive symptoms than are children and adolescents assigned to control conditions. Similarly, in a study of Interpersonal Psychotherapy approaches to preventing youth depression, Young and colleagues found that teens who participated in a skills-based intervention targeting interpersonal role disputes, role transitions and interpersonal deficits reported fewer depressive symptoms at six-months follow-up than teens who were assigned to a school counseling control group.

Here at WCW, we are currently studying the efficacy of a primary-care, Internet-based depression-prevention program for adolescents who are at risk for the development of depression, based on a past history of depression and/or current symptoms of depressive disorder. While many of these youth depression prevention programs are still being evaluated in randomized controlled research trials, early results suggest that prevention programs may work. It seems we can indeed provide teens with strategies that they can use over time, as they encounter stress and challenging life events, so that they are able to stay healthy and avoid the onset of significant mental health concerns.

What are the risks for depression in adolescents? When should you be worried about your teen? When we talk about risks for depression, we often think in terms of specific factors (i.e., factors identified through empirical research to be associated specifically with increased risk for youth depression) and nonspecific factors (i.e., factors that are associated with increased risk for a range of disorders, including depression). Specific risk factors for adolescent depression include having low self-esteem, being female, developing a negative body image, low social support, a negative cognitive style, and ineffective coping. The strongest specific risk factor for the development of depression, above and beyond these other factors, is having a parent with depressive illness. In fact, offspring of depressed parents are at about a two- to four-fold increased risk of developing depressive disorders, relative to children of parents without depression. Nonspecific risk factors that also increase risk of youth depression include poverty, exposure to violence, social isolation, child maltreatment, and family breakup.

Although the presence of these risk factors is associated with an increased risk for youth depression, as noted above, many at-risk children are resilient and never develop a depressive disorder. Having supportive adults present, strong family relationships, strong peer relationships, coping skills, and skills in emotion regulation all can contribute to resiliency. Even depressed parents can promote resilience in their teens by encouraging teens to engage in outside activities, maintain supportive relationships, and recognize themselves as separate from issues and concerns that are affecting other family members.

How can you recognize signs and symptoms of depression in your child, and how can you help? Depressed teens are often sad or irritable, and may exhibit a range of additional symptoms, such as withdrawal from friends and usual activities, sleep difficulties (i.e., difficulty sleeping or sleeping all the time), somatic complaints (i.e., headaches, stomach aches), poor school performance, self-critical talk, changes in eating patterns, difficulty sitting still, and may start writing or thinking about death. If you are concerned about your teen, then express your concern openly and honestly. Tell your child that you care, and that you want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask your child if he is experiencing suicidal thoughts – asking will NOT make him contemplate suicide or take his own life. Reach out to your child’s pediatrician for assistance and referrals. Let your child know that treatments are available, and that you are going to work together to get your child the help she needs.

National Suicide Prevention Week is an opportune time to consider the many ways that suicidal thoughts and actions can be combated, including preventing the onset of depression in adolescents, and getting teens help if they are depressed already.

Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Robert S. and Grace W. Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. The Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives focus on research and evaluation designed to prevent the onset of mental health concerns in children and adolescents.


Beardslee, W.R., Brent, D.A., Weersing, V.R., Clarke, G.N., Porta, G., Hollon, S.D., Gladstone, T.R.G., Gallop, R., Lynch, F.L., Iyengar, S., DeBar, L., & Garber, J. (in press). Prevention of depression in at-risk adolescents: Longer-term effects. Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.

Bridge, J. A., Goldstein, T. R., & Brent, D. A. (2006). Adolescent suicide and suicidal behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(3‐4), 372-394.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance- United States 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(4), 1-168.

Garber, J., Clarke, G.N., Weersing, V.R., Beardslee, W.R., Brent, D.A., Gladstone, T.R.G., DeBar, L.L., Lynch, F.L., D’Angelo, E., Hollon, S.D., Shamseddeen, W., & Iyengar, S. (2009). Prevention of depression in at-risk adolescents: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 301, 2215-2224.

Hoyert, D. L., & Xu, J. (2012). Deaths: preliminary data for 2011. National Vital Statistics Report, 61(6), 1-65.

Nock, M. K., Green, J. G., Hwang, I., McLaughlin, K. A., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2013). Prevalence, correlates, and treatment of lifetime suicidal behavior among adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, 70(3), 300-310.  


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Is Stress Making Us Sick?

pensivewomanIs Stress Making Us Sick?

Recently, NPR, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health, released a poll that found that one-quarter of Americans reported that they had experienced significant amounts of stress in the previous month. That level of stress is similar to levels found in earlier polls. But is this much stress making us sick? The poll found that 70% of people experiencing high levels of stress reported that they were sleeping less--not getting enough sleep can negatively affect health. Other research tells us even more about the possible health consequences of too much stress and our capacity to cope with it. One of the top three sources of stress in the NPR poll, for individuals reporting high levels of stress, was stress from work problems. We know that jobs that are very stressful, with too much to do, can contribute to health problems, but only when those demands or challenges are not offset by the resources and authority to make decisions about the work. In fact, jobs that are very challenging--and in which workers have the authority and resources they need--are good for our health. The bad jobs are those with heavy demands that you can’t address or that never end--or those jobs that have no challenge whatsoever, that involve repetitive or boring work, with no say over what work gets done when. Not surprisingly, in the NPR poll, people in lower-paid jobs, with annual incomes under $20,000, reported more stress from work problems than did those with incomes of $50,000 or more (64% of low-income individuals reported work stress, compared to 57% of higher income people).

Another factor in whether stress makes us sick is whether the stress is chronic or from a single event. Certain life events are very stressful, such as the death of a loved one or divorce; one-in-six people reported that the most stressful event in the previous year was the death of a loved one, and fewer than one-in-ten reported a life change or transition, such as divorce, was the most stressful event. However, ongoing stressful conditions, such as chronic health problems, being a single parent following divorce, or poverty, are more likely to BlogPullQuote7.31wear away at our health and wellbeing. The NPR poll found that individuals with a chronic illness were more likely to report high stress in the previous month (36% compared to 26% overall), as were individuals living in poverty (36%) and single parents (35%). These chronic stressors tax our abilities to cope with stress. For those individuals with high levels of stress, problems with finances was one of the main sources of stress, and this was especially true for those living in poverty (70% reported financial stress), those with disabilities (64%) or in poor health (69%), and for women (58%, compared to 45% for men). Chronic stress can lead to wear and tear or allostatic load, which can suppress immune function and lead to susceptibility to disease.

The other major contributor to stress, according to the poll, was having too many responsibilities overall. While this can mean different things to different people, it’s interesting to note that women were more likely than men to say that this was one of the reasons they were so stressed in the previous month. One life situation that can give us that overload feeling is combining employment with raising a family. While many men and women find that combination to be beneficial – would you give up your family or choose to stop working? – there are circumstances when the combination can be a negative. Women and men can experience strain from the stresses of too much to do at work and at home. However, because women tend to spend more time in family labor than do men, women with young children and not enough support or resources at work or at home are particularly at risk.

Poverty, bad jobs, too many responsibilities— these can all contribute to poorer health; these stressors are not randomly experienced by everyone, but rather fall more heavily on those with less advantage and opportunity in their lives. In a 2010 review of the latest research on stress and health, Peggy Thoits argued that the greater exposure of members of less-advantaged groups (women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals) to chronic or high stress was one of the reasons that we find poorer health among women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals. There are many possible responses to this reality, but central to that must be recognizing the health consequences of high levels of stress and addressing some of the underlying stressors, such as inequality and injustice.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.


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Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent

july29blogChild Care and the Overwhelmed Parent

Courtney Martin, a friend of the Wellesley Centers for Women, journalist, author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists,” and one of the founding directors of the Solutions Journalism Network, is a regular contributor to the New York Times online opinion pages. In her July 24th article, she writes, "...what working mothers really need are systematic ways to find and afford safe, local care options for their kids. While many parents scramble to find care in the summer months, especially for older children out of school, it’s a year-round challenge for families with kids younger than preschool age."

Read Martin's full article,"Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent">>

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Facebook: Friend or Foe

fbthumbsFacebook: Friend or Foe

This blog post is reproduced with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ. It was first published on the Human Capital Blog.

If you were stressed out and wanted to vent to your friends about it, how would you let them know? Would you pick up the phone and talk, or text? Would you set up time to grab coffee or go for a brisk walk? Or would you post to Facebook why your day just couldn’t get any worse?

As I logged into the recent RWJF/NPR/Harvard School of Public Health-sponsored Stress in America discussion, I identified with the panelists who were dispelling stereotypes about “highly stressed” individuals being high-level executives or those at the top of the ladder. Instead of finding work-related stress as a top concern, as is often played out in the media and popular culture, the researchers were finding that individuals with health concerns, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals were experiencing the highest levels of stress. The panelists talked about the importance of qualities like resiliency and the ability to turn multiple, competing stressors into productive challenges to overcome, and the integral role of communities in shaping, buffering, and/or exacerbating stress.

We often consider our communities as living, working, playing in close physical proximity. But what about the online spaces? What about our opt-in networked friendship circles ... our cyber-audience who sign up to read our posts with mundane observations, proud revelations, and the occasional embarrassing photos?

BlogPullQuote7.24Media coverage about social media has not been kind—often linking its use with cyberbullying, sexual predators, and depression or loneliness. But recent scholarship on new media demonstrates that interpersonal communication, online and offline, plays a vital role in integrating people into their communities by helping them build support, maintain ties, and promote trust. Social media is often used to escape from the pressures of life and alter moods, to secure an audience for self-disclosures, and to widen social networks and increase social capital. The Pew Research Internet Project found that adult Facebook users are more trusting than others, have more close, core ties with their social networks, and receive more social support than non-users.

So what if we asked adolescents the same question: “If you were having a bad day and wanted to let your friends know about it, how would you let them know?”

In our current research on media and identity, we purposively sampled more than 2,300 individuals aged 12 to 25 from 47 states and 26 countries. They took an online survey that investigated how vulnerable populations (such as racial/ethnic minorities, women, adolescents, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, those with low social status) have used the Internet and social media in healthy and unhealthy ways, particularly during times of stress. We wanted to determine how and why supportive communities could exist in personal online networks that could increase one’s resiliency in the face of challenges.

We found that when young people want to talk about a bad day, they mainly preferred in-person (69%), texting (69%), or phone call (51%) methods to reach out for help. Social media was not utilized as often to talk about stressful times—with Facebook (29%) being more popular than Twitter (7%) overall.

The Stress in America poll results found that 19 percent of adults use social media more than usual during stressful times. In our study, adolescents were significantly more likely to post to Facebook networks about their bad days than emerging adults aged 18 to 25, which can indicate that there are generational differences in how new media can be supportive.

African American participants (19%) chose Twitter to report to their networks about a bad day more often, whereas Asian Americans (40%) used Facebook more often than people of any other race/ethnicity during times of stress.

A surprisingly large number of young people (under age 25) reported that they write blogs, from a low of 37 percent of Hispanic respondents to a high of 60 percent of Asian Americans respondents. Incidentally, individuals who have ever written a blog are more likely to report being unhappy or sad than non-bloggers. Perhaps being more public online about private matters helps adolescents to know that they are not alone in their battles with stress.

Further examination of the use of new media may help us develop prevention and intervention programs and tools to guide adolescents, their parents, educators, and health care workers, and to remind ourselves how the adolescent and emerging adult years can be stressful. Perhaps logging onto one’s Facebook community and jotting down one’s thoughts could be just the right kind of coping mechanism whenever the need arises.

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and a former National Institute of Child Health and Human Development postdoctoral scholar. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee, examining the potential of social media networks to promote resiliency in vulnerable populations.

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Open Circle Training Goes to Uganda

uganda3Open Circle Training Goes to Uganda

Two Open Circle trainers from the Open Circle Program, Jen Dirga, MSW, and Sallie Dunning, Ed.M., traveled to Uganda in May 2014 to train teachers, youth, and parents from six rural primary schools and communities through the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation. The goal of the training was to improve the relationships between the students, teachers, and parents, and to improve academic performance.

After the training, the teachers noted in their evaluation forms that this is the first training on social and emotional learning they had ever attended.

Dirga and Dunning reflect on their experiences with Open Circle training in Uganda:

uganda1Jen Dirga

Our trainings in Amor Village were amazing. It was hard to imagine ways to transfer the practices and concepts of Open Circle to Eastern Uganda. Yet, the experience highlighted the transformative power of positive relationships. Throughout our trainings there was an openness to mutually learn from each other. This is a community impacted with overcrowded schools (200 students to 1 teacher with very few resources), extreme poverty, and pervasive illness – and they welcomed opportunities to transfer Open Circle concepts and practices to support their children.

Sallie Dunning and I went to Amor Village with a training design based on the goals identified by Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) in the Fall of 2013. Beatrice set the stage for our learning through her community work that effectively supports education and social change within her village.

Our training focused on practices that both promote and support positive relationships. We also highlighted specific interpersonal and life skills.

I think Sallie and I both learned how universally transferable so many of these skills are and the impact that they can have in supporting an entire community.


uganda2Sallie Dunning

Living in this small rural community in Eastern Uganda for two weeks was a life-changing experience for me. Riddled with disease (75% of the population is HIV positive), and poverty, the people had an astounding capacity for joy and generosity. (Two families gave me a precious chicken as a sign of gratitude for just being there.) Though isolated from “civilization” (having no electricity, mail, or running water), and used to their own ways, they were surprisingly open to our ideas about cultivating positive relationships, speaking up for girls’ education, and solving problems. Teachers, who have class sizes between 100-200 students with no pencils, paper, books, or materials, enjoyed trying out new teaching practices that might empower their students. Parents became convinced that they were their children’s most important teacher (a new concept for them), and vowed to try to be better models. All of this was possible because of the innovating grass roots work done by Beatrice Achieng Nas, a leader of that village who did work here at WCW last year.

Open Circle is a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning (SEL) in Kindergarten through Grade 5 in the United States.

Since its inception in 1987, Open Circle has reached over two million children and trained more than 13,000 educators. Open Circle is currently used in over 300 schools in more than 100 urban, suburban and rural communities across the United States. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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In Memory of Maya Angelou

mayaangelouIn Memory of Maya Angelou

Today we lost a Phenomenal Woman writ large and a national treasure, Dr. Maya Angelou, at the age of 86. Last year on April 4, 2013, we cross-posted a birthday tribute to her extraordinary life here on Women Change Worlds and at the blog page of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Voices of our Community Blog. In honor of her passing, and in honor of phenomenal women everywhere, we are re-posting this blog again today.


Happy Birthday Maya Angelou!

We may remember today many ways, but one of the happiest has to be by wishing an ebullient “Happy Birthday!” to one of America’s living national treasures: Dr. Maya Angelou, who was born on this day, as Marguerite Ann Johnson, in 1928.  In the 85 years since then, she has graced our nation and the world with wisdom, vivacity, courage, and splendor as the very embodiment of the figure she made famous in her poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”  On a day that encourages us to reflect on civil and human rights with the widest possible scope, we can use this occasion to look closely at the many ways that Dr. Angelou has blazed paths, opened doors, and enlarged life and living for the rest of us.

Dr. Angelou is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, first published in 1969, which tells the story of her tumultuous childhood and its overcoming, and then again for her riveting recitation of the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, or as the first poet to be invited to a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost appeared at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.  Yet, these anchors of public awareness only punctuate a life of irrepressible self-invention that has enlarged our sense of what human beings are capable of and what human liberation might actually look like.  Challenging early circumstances in Dr. Angelou’s life – family violence, family mobility, economic insecurity, sexual abuse – only served to refine and lay bare her genius and expose us to her gifts – artistic, political, literary, and spiritual. 

This Phenomenal Woman was the first African American woman to author a screenplay: Georgia, Georgia, the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture: Down in the Delta, the first major Black writer to author a fourth (then a fifth and sixth) autobiography (giving W.E.B. DuBois, who famously authored three, a run for his money and his historical legacy), and even the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.  Yet, this litany of firsts obscures a deeper contribution to women’s empowerment and the global legacy of civil and human rights for people of African descent.

As an integral creative spirit within the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Angelou’s works of autobiography then poetry helped lay the foundation for Black women’s literature and literary studies, as well as Black feminist and womanist activism today.  By laying bare her story, she made it possible to talk publicly and politically about many women’s issues that we now address through organized social movements – rape, incest, child sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence.  Through the acknowledgement of lesbianism in her writings as well as her public friendship with Black gay writer and activist James Baldwin, she helped shift America’s ability to envision and enact civil rights advances for the LGBTQ community.  And the time she spent in Ghana during the early 1960s (where she met W.E.B. DuBois and made friends with Malcolm X, among others), helped Americans of all colors draw connections between the civil rights and Black Power movements in the U.S. and the decolonial independence and Pan-African movements of Africa and the diaspora. 

By communicating through the arts, Dr. Angelou has always brought a much-needed dimension of heart and soul to our political efforts and aspirations.  Her life-as-career has been recognized for its universal value to others in her appointment as the lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, as well as through numerous awards and recognitions. The long arc of her contributions to civil and human rights, which reaches back to her early employment with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reached a tragic pitch with the assassination of her friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King on her 40th birthday in 1968, and proceeds forward to the recent formation of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest School of Medicine, is now part of the fabric of our history.

At 85, Dr. Maya Angelou is a living legend and cultural treasure. Her courage in the service of freedom and justice has left its unmistakable mark on our world. As she once stated, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

On this day, as an act of honor and celebration, I encourage everyone to seek out and share a book, poem, film, song, or speech by Dr. Maya Angelou – but not to stop there.  To truly honor her life, we must look around and witness the many “caged birds who still sing” – and then find a way to help open doors to freedom.  We can look to organizations like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which has become a convener of change conversations and a facilitator of change actions, or to organizations like the Wellesley Centers for Women, that works to move the needle of change by supporting social change efforts through social scientific research, theory, and action.  But we can also start right where we are, as Dr. Angelou did so many times herself, and ask ourselves, “What can I do, right here, right now?”  There are so many ways to get involved, and, like Dr. Angelou, to live a life that makes a difference.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.


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More than two weeks have gone by since 276 young women were abducted from a high school in Nigeria,* and there has been relatively little attention to their plight from the international community and news media. These are young women who had returned to the school (which had previously been closed due to regional violence) to study for an important physics exam, the results of which could help them gain entry to a university and later into careers such as medicine and education.

Wellesley College, like many other colleges and universities in this country, has recently opened its doors to visits from prospective students--women from a wide range of backgrounds. As we share their anticipation and hopes, we might also take a moment to consider how in “one fell swoop” a group of terrorists, Boko Haram, violently intercepted the hopes of these young women who are of similar age. The other day, walking on our campus, I saw a group of local high school seniors in formal attire having their pictures taken by our beautiful lake, and I was touched by their pre-graduation excitement and, at the time, overwhelmed as I imagined the despair those young Nigerian women, aged 16-18, must be experiencing in the clutches of a depraved enemy.BlogPullQuote5.7

Wellesley is one of the Seven Sisters’ Colleges--colleges with a historic commitment to the education and rights of women. If “Sisterhood” means something, then please lend your voices now; let the world know that this is unacceptable. Two years ago Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and almost killed as a member of the Taliban opened fire on her school bus. Once again, young women risk annihilation in their effort to become educated. We are in a position to assert our voices on behalf of these “sisters.”

What you can do:

  • Use social media--hash tag #BringBackOurGirls Instagram posts and tweets in an effort to increase awareness.
  • Organize/ Attend Peaceful Community Marches.
  • Petition.
  • Raise public awareness and show support for these women in a peaceful, law-abiding and effective way.


Margaret Cezair-Thompson, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department, Wellesley College.

* The actual number of abducted students has been difficult to confirm.

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Middle School Expanded Learning Opportunities: 20 Years and Growing

middleschoolmonthMiddle School Expanded Learning Opportunities: 20 Years and Growing

A few weeks ago we recognized Middle School Month--dedicated to re-emphasizing the importance of middle school programming and the unique developmental needs of adolescents. The National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) has worked with many concerned educators and policy makers over the years to ensure that middle school children have quality opportunities.

Eric Schwarz, CEO and founder of Citizen Schools, has been one of the most dynamic partners in his work. Recently, he announced plans to step down from his role as the organization that serves low-income, at-risk middle school students approaches its twentieth anniversary. Back in the mid 1990s, specialized afterschool programs for middle school youth were virtually unknown. But Eric had a vision that paved the way for a not only a new area of programming, but a body of knowledge and research that stressed the importance of giving low-income middle school students the skills and access to learning experiences most middle class students and their families took for granted.

Eric and I met at NIOST in 1994, shortly before he launched Citizen Schools with his partner Ned Rimer. I remember clearly our conversation about the special needs of middle school students, often overlooked by leaders in the field who were mostly focused on elementary-level children. At the time, we looked to the leadership of The Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the few research organizations that focused on young adolescents. Their guidance on the needs specific to this age group helped to shape the early work of those of us who recognized this gap in the developing field of afterschool. They included*:

  • Physical Activity
    Competence and Achievement
    Creative Expression
    Positive Social Interactions with Peers and Adults
    Structure and Clear Limits
    Meaningful Participation


In 2014, an industry of programs and services exist that focus on middle school youth during their out-of-school time and expanded learning day. NIOST, now in its thirty-fifth year, has expanded its repertoire of scholarship, research-based tools and training to include middle school- (and high school-) level programs and continues to focus its work on the changing needs and concerns of youth ages, 5-18 years. In part we can thank visionaries like Eric Schwarz for his leadership and advocacy. Eric, best of luck in your future endeavors!

Ellen Gannett, M.Ed. is director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

*Planning Programs for Young Adolescents, Center for Early Adolescence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1987


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A Case of Structural Racism

MIblogimageA Case of Structural Racism

For five years, from 2008 until 2013, I studied how Mississippi implements its child care certificates for low-income women who received the certificates as a welfare benefit. I brought to the work a racial lens and decades of studying the political right as a movement. I found a profound impact of both race and right-wing politics in my study of the Mississippi welfare bureaucracy and how low-income women and their children are treated. It has been a challenging and enlightening five years of travel, reading, conducting interviews, and mining historical and contemporary narratives.

Although Mississippi is majority white (60.6 % vs. 37.2 % Black in 2008), its poor are disproportionately African American (55% of low income households). Its overall poverty rate is 28%. Black people’s median earnings in Mississippi are about $10,000 less than whites. Approximately 13.9 % of children live below half of the poverty level, the highest percentage in the country. According to KidsCount, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Mississippi’s overall rank in child well-being is 50th out of 50 states.

Because many white people in Mississippi think of welfare as a “Black” program, its image is doubly stigmatized--by the negative stereotype of welfare recipients and by the widespread belief that recipients are African American. No Mississippi governor in recent memory has made the state’s low income people a priority. As a result, recipients of welfare services are viewed with suspicion and hostility.

Usually, some 6,000 children are on the waiting list to receive a child care certificate. This is no longer a matter of explicitly racial policies, but is a product of de facto racism in the implementation of Mississippi’s subsidized child care. By creating daunting barriers for low-income mothers in accessing subsidies for child care, Mississippi is disproportionately leaving their children behind.

BlogPullQuote4.11In Mississippi, advocacy for low-income women and children tends to occur only in the non-profit and non-governmental sectors, which are both relatively under-resourced in comparison with other states. No adequately powerful counter-voice exists to offset the public tone of hostility toward low-income women. Further, conscious and sub-conscious racism is so entrenched in Mississippi that even policies that would appear to address racial discrimination turn out to have no impact. Mississippi could be said to be “Ground Zero” for structural racism. So intractable is this form of racism at all class levels that the elimination of Jim Crow laws and practices has failed to eliminate structural racism. Neglect of poor children of color in Mississippi is but one outcome.

A symptom of the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ attitude toward welfare recipients is its latest scheme to fingerprint mothers each time they drop off their children at child care and when they pick them up. Only welfare recipients will have to use the fingerprint scanner. This scheme has cost Mississippi $8 million dollars and is intended to “reduce fraud and thus make more child care certificates available to others.” Child care providers and certificate recipients mobilized in opposition to the program. It has been temporarily stopped by the courts, but only because MDHS has been unable to complete the research the court required of it.

Mississippi is not alone in its pervasive structural racism. In every state in the country, race plays a role in the opportunities available to children and the likelihood of success for families. The perception by whites of the motivations of low-income people has been heavily influenced by a rightist campaign to demonize the poor as “dependent” and failing to take personal responsibility for their lives. This campaign has amounted to a war on the poor. Mississippi is but a shining example of that war.

For those of us who believe that improvement in the lives of Mississippians depends on empowerment of Black and white Mississippians from the ground up, child care is a crucial component. We learn more every year about the development of a child’s brain and what an enormous difference it can make to the future life of a child if that development is nurtured and expanded in the earliest years. Child care is not the only key to breaking through the barriers standing in the way of low-income Mississippians, but high quality early child care is an intervention that holds the possibility of changing outcomes for low-income children.

Jean Hardisty, Ph.D. is a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. This blog draws upon the report, Between A Rock and A Hard Place: Race and Child Care in Mississippi.


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UN Commission Calls for Increased Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

UNFlagsUN Commission Calls for Increased Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

The following blog article was posted on Huffington Post, March 25, 2014 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women ended early Saturday morning with a strong call to prioritize gender equality and the human rights of women in order to achieve sustainable development.

The Commission was convened at the UN headquarters in New York to address the challenges and achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in improving the lives of women and girls in developing countries. While the MDGs resulted in a reduction of poverty in some respects, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls -- particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health. With the MDGs set to expire in 2015, the Commission's outcome document will help shape priorities for the next global development framework.

The Commission specifically called for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, a move that was applauded by women's rights activists.

A stand-alone goal on gender equality signals that gender equality and women's rights are important in and of themselves, as well as a priority for governmental investment. It recognizes that sustainable and meaningful development must address the root causes of gender inequality, which deny women and girls an education, the right to make decisions about their bodies and childbearing, to decent employment -- and equal pay for equal work -- and to live free of violence.

BlogPullQuote4.2The Commission also stated that the post-2015 development agenda must include gender-specific targets across other development goals, strategies, and objectives -- especially those related to education, health, economic justice, and the environment. It also called on governments to address the discriminatory social norms and practices that foster gender inequality, including early and forced marriage and other forms of violence against women and girls, and to strengthen accountability mechanisms for women's human rights.

The Agreed Conclusions reaffirmed the Cairo Programme of Action as well as the Beijing Platform of Action, which called for investments in "quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care" including emergency contraception, information and education, safe abortion where allowed by law, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Furthermore, the Conclusions called for the recognition of the human rights of women to "decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality... free from coercion, discrimination, and violence."

Member States also recognized that progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals -- which include eradicating poverty and expanding access to health services such as reproductive health -- has been held back due to persistent "unequal power relations between women and men," particularly discriminatory laws, social norms, and gender stereotypes.

The governments expressed concern that several critical issues related to gender equality were not adequately addressed by the MDGs, including violence against women and girls; harmful practices such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; women's and adolescents' sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; women's and girls' disproportionate share of unpaid work, particularly unpaid care work; the gender wage gap; women's equal access to and control of resources including land; women's inheritance rights; and women's full participation in decision-making at all levels.

The Commission called for measures to ensure universal access to primary education, especially for girls and vulnerable youth, as well as measures to strengthen the ability of women to participate in formal and informal labor sectors. The governments also called for efforts to ensure that women's rights and health obtain the prominence they deserve in the next global development framework.

Women's health and rights organizations applauded governments who stood up for the rights of all individuals to live free of violence, discrimination, and barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, particularly for girls. However, advocates expressed disappointment that a small minority of conservative governments spurred on by the Holy See--which holds special observer status at the UN -- held up negotiations by objecting to concepts as fundamental as gender and the human rights of women throughout the two weeks of negotiations.

In particular, advocates noted that, despite a 20-year legacy of UN prohibition of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and increasingly on gender identity, government delegates gave in to pressure to exclude recognition of these violations in the final agreed conclusions. 

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.


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Computer Literacy: A valuable skill for all girls and women

TechblogimageComputer Literacy: A valuable skill for all girls and women

We need more girls and women to consider careers in STEM--science, technology, engineering, and math--particularly computer science. Computers are everywhere and are part of our lives in so many ways--phones, cars, home, workplace. Women who can master technology may find more career opportunities and new ways to make a difference in their communities and the world.

Further,STEM careers offer financial rewards and some flexibility. According to Department of Education Analysis of Girls in Education, women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. Yet, a 2011 report “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation” confirms that women pursue STEM jobs and STEM degrees less than men. I am hopeful that more women will enter STEM fields, or at least include computer science as part of their education.

Technology today is significantly different than in the past. Today it’s an art of adapting and knitting pieces together, evaluating possible strategies, and understanding requirements and limitations of functionality and outcomes. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described learning to code as “creative and empowering”; this past winter he encouraged students, teachers, and parents to participate in the Hour of Code campaign as a preparation for the critical thinking and problem solving needed for academic and career success. The Maker Movement, with sponsors such as Cognizant, Intel, and Pixar, encourages kids to combine creativity with science, technology, engineering, art, and math. I believe that the emphasis on creativity is why the Maker Movement reports a 55 percent female participation rate.

BlogPullQuote3.20In my hometown, I see evidence that women are emerging as confident, enthusiastic leaders of technology. Recently, I was at a public meeting for a community group planning the inaugural Wellesley Science & Technology Expo slated for next month. The feedback from local women programmers who had an idea for using Raspberry Pis in a computer science demo resulted in the room buzzing with energy and excitement.

We need to reach a critical mass of women in technology and we need to keep young girls engaged throughout their academic trajectories. Similar to the finding that three or more women are needed to make an impact on a corporate board, we need better female representation to change the culture of computing. Entering technology today is an opportunity for adolescent girls and young women to make large strides toward equality, to decrease the gender gap in pay, and to attain leadership positions where they can inform workplace policies and bring women’s perspectives into our technology-driven society. By utilizing and sharing these skills, women can help drive social change for the field, for the world.

So, here's my call-to-action women of the world: Be innovators, become comfortable with technology. Learn something new and share your knowledge; become a wizard using applications on your phone or tablet. If you have children in your life, learn with them so they may associate technology learning from and with women as well as men. Be a leader!

Sue Sours, B.S. is the Information & Technology Systems Manager at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She earned her degree in Applied Mathematics/Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University.


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A College Student’s Perspective on Leadership

SMahmoodHKBottomlyMAlbrightSocial Justice Dialogue: A College Student’s Perspective on Leadership

Wellesley College has a legacy for producing storied female leadership. Our alumnae include two Secretaries of State and the most female Fortune 500 CEOs of any American college or university. This legacy was what drew me, along with many other students, to the College. We, too, wanted to be leaders, and the achievements of our high-profile alumnae confirmed that this was the place to be.

SocialJusticeDialogueBoxHP At the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs this past winter session, however, the other fellows and I began to wonder if our original conception of leadership had been too narrow. The Institute’s focus on developing women’s leadership for the international stage made us think critically about what being a leader means. Perhaps, we realized, being high-profile was not the only way to be high-impact.

We heard from former Wellesley College President Nannerl Keohane, now a Senior Scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, who discussed the 2011 findings of the Princeton Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership. At Princeton, female students have been less likely to seek prominent leadership positions than their male counterparts, in a pattern consistent with co-ed colleges across the country.

As students at a women’s college, we were accustomed to an environment where women hold all of the leadership positions. We knew that women were discouraged, and even prevented, from pursuing prominent leadership roles in the “real world,” but it was jarring to realize that this also took place at college campuses. After all, college is intended to develop, not hinder, your potential.

BlogPullQuote3.17Yet just because women weren’t holding high-profile leadership positions on campus didn’t mean that they weren’t contributing to campus life. The committee also found that women were more likely to “hold behind-the-scenes positions or seek to make a difference outside of elected office in campus groups.” Women at Princeton, for example, were often engaged in cause-based issues, like spearheading campaigns to institute recycling across campus.

These findings made us consider whether our definition of leadership was so limiting that we were overlooking those who were providing it, just in alternative ways. In defining leadership as something that must inherently be prominent and visible, we had forgotten that leadership is about putting the issue, and not yourself, on the frontlines.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t keep working towards cracking the glass ceiling. Another speaker, Rangita de Silwa de Alwis, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, as well as a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, emphasized the importance of including women’s voices at the table. High-profile positions come with great power and influence, and excluding women from them is both unjust and unwise, as research suggests that closing the gender gap in fields like policymaking results in more inclusive legislation and economic empowerment. While we work towards making top leadership more inclusive, though, we must also recognize that sitting at the head of the table isn’t the only way to get work done, either.

In fact, most of the people driving social change are “ordinary” people, doing extraordinary things. Consider the women that created HarassMap, an SMS reporting system for sexual harassment in Egypt. Their work has directly made a difference in creating a safer world for women. They might not appear on the cover of Forbes, but their leadership has made a difference in the lives of Egyptian women.

Further, perhaps part of the problem in why women are less likely to be found in prominent positions is because we devalue the other forms of leadership that they have been providing in the first place. Organizing a recycling campaign requires the same degree of management and vision as being the president of a club--yet one is seen as more prestigious than the other. This not only limits the opportunities available to qualified women, but also makes them feel as though they’re not qualified in the first place.

One of the traditions at Wellesley is hoop-rolling, where seniors race down a lane, while rolling a hoop. Back in the day, it was said that the woman who finished first would be the first one to get married. That changed with the feminist movement, when the winner was the first one to become a CEO. Now we say that the winner will be the first one to have her dreams come true, whatever they might be. It is time we start applying the same open-mindedness to our view of leadership.

Sarah Mahmood is a senior at Wellesley College and a Communications Assistant at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has worked as an On-Call Writer at PolicyMic; a Press Intern at the Clinton Foundation; and an Intern for Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien at CNN. Mahmood is pictured above with H. Kim Bottomly, Wellesley College President, and Madeleine Korbel Albright, Secretary of State (1997-2001), during the 2014 Albright Institute in January.


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Reframing Leadership as a Democratic Practice

SocialJusticeDialogueBoxReframing Leadership as a Democratic Practice

Social Justice Dialogue: Leadership for Social Change

Too often, discussions about leadership confuse leadership with authority or management, and ignore the unique imperatives public leaders face. This trend is especially troubling in a socio-political context that characterizes “the public” as dependent and inefficient, and redistributes financial and political power from everyday people to a select few corporate actors. But Wellesley College faculty and other scholars on campus are holding a different conversation, reframing leadership as democratic practice and a call to empower social actors from all walks of life. Over the past year, roughly 25 professors and researchers from across the college have come together to forge the Project on Public Leadership and Action, a working group with three distinct principles.

First, we are dedicated to public facing scholarship and teaching. We are committed to dialogue about the civic and democratic practices needed to address public problems and help individuals be agents of social change. This requires thinking about how our research and teaching can reach and impact audiences beyond the campus and our own professional networks. As we teach and write about global citizenship, democratic practice, collective action, and civic engagement, we realize that the true value of the work is realized only when everyday actors take it and make it their own. This means thinking intentionally about constituencies for our work outside of academia, and finding ways to make our work accessible to practitioners.

BlogPullQuote3.4Second, the PPLA explores ways to do teaching and research that is driven by our values. We focus on the kinds of leadership and collective capacity we need to meet the common challenges our society face in a just way. We insist upon rigor and methodological soundness in our work, but we cannot separate moral and ethical considerations from our research and writing. Many scholars believe that our values suffuse our classrooms, laboratories, articles, and books whether we recognize and foreground them or not. The Project on Public Leadership seeks ways to affirm and support explicitly values-driven work.

Finally, the working group is committed to creating a community where scholars and practitioners cross borders and break down traditional silos of research, teaching, and practice. PPLA gatherings boast professors from the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences, and we benefit greatly from the wisdom and experiences of colleagues we might never interact with under ordinary circumstances. Further, we recognize that knowledge production is not the exclusive domain of those in the academy. Practitioners working at non-profits, advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, and other organizations have much to teach us, and when we fail to communicate and collaborate, we fail each other.

During our pilot year the PPLA is holding a series of seminars dedicated to each principle, and inviting guests with experience bridging the gap between the academy and the broader public to help us think through working models for Wellesley. For more information on current programming and plans for the future, please visit our webpage and join the conversation at our next event!

Michael P. Jeffries, Knafel Assistant Professor of Social Sciences, (@M_P_Jeffries) and Hahrie Han, Associate Professor of Political Science, (@hahriehan), are spearheading the Project on Public Leadership and Action with colleagues at Wellesley College.


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Social Justice Dialogue: Leadership for Social Change

SocialJusticeDialogueBoxSocial Justice Dialogue: Leadership for Social Change

Work at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) is undertaken with the goal to help inform change makers, amend attitudes, and to help shape a more just world for women and girls, communities and families. The interdisciplinary team of scholars, administrators, and advisors who ensure that WCW’s mission moves forward are informed by their own and others’ work, as well as their lived experiences. The Women Change Worlds blog allows us to share our expertise and perspectives, and for our community to engage with us. Responding to critical issues in the world and creating teachable moments, our Social Justice Dialogues can broaden all our perspectives.

Over the next few weeks, this blog will feature articles written by WCW scholars and colleagues focused on our current Social Justice Dialogue: Leadership for Social Change. Although recognition may be for the few, leadership is not. I believe most of us have the capacity to drive change; we just need to decide how deeply we are able and want to engage in leadership roles, individually or collectively. What are the values, traits, experiences, mindsets of those who are able to effectively build off their own sense of purpose and inspire others to do the same? What should we expect from ourselves—and what do we want from our leaders—to affect positive change for our families, communities, workplaces, systems, the world?

BlogPullQuote2.28“The criteria for inspired leadership don’t need to be shadowed in mystery,” Deepak Chopra writes in The Soul of Leadership. “In fact, they are simple: great leaders are those who can respond to their own needs and the needs of others from the higher levels of spirit with vision, creativity, and a sense of unity with the people they lead.”

I invite you to share in the Comments box links to one or two news stories, essays, organizations, or other resources that you believe may contribute to a productive dialogue on ways we can learn to develop and effectively demonstrate leadership that advances social change.

Donna Tambascio is the Deputy Director for Communications and External Relations at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College.

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Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention

TDVblogTeen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention

Last year, when President Barack Obama proclaimed February Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, he noted that an estimated one in ten teens will be hurt intentionally by someone they are dating and “while this type of abuse cuts across lines of age and gender, young women are disproportionately affected by both dating violence and sexual assault.” His Administration has committed many resources to addressing the problem. The Violence Against Women Act, reauthorized in 2013 by the U.S. Congress, funds enforcement of gender-based violence laws, provides victim services, and created new federal crimes involving interstate violence against women. The 1 is 2 Many campaign launched by Vice President Joe Biden aims to reduce sexual violence against those who experience the assaults at the highest rates--young women ages 16-24. And recently, a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President analyzed rape and sexual assault data, including the staggering number of sexual assaults on campuses, and issued a renewed call to action. Teen dating violence between adolescents who are “dating,” “going together,” “hanging out,” or however the adolescents label it, is a serious problem—from public health, education, and legal perspectives—with injuries, poorer mental/physical health, more ‘high-risk’/deviant behavior, and increased school avoidance being experienced and reported.

One concern I have is that federal policies, as evidenced by Congressional funding priorities, may not consistently address systemic issues that contribute to teen dating violence. For example, the federal government has invested generously in “healthy relationship” programs and initiatives that promote marriage as a cure-all for poor women and girls but have no requirement for evaluation, while also funding research that takes a gender-neutral approach to examining the problem.1 Data shows that males and females do not engage in mutual, reciprocal, and equivalent violence—so why wouldn’t there be a need to examine the gendered components of any intimate partner violence?

My research for over 30 years has focused on peer sexual harassment in schools, a form of gender violence, which I consider the training grounds for domestic violence. In fact, sexual harassment may also serve aBlogPullQuote2.6s a precursor to teen dating violence. Schools—where most young people meet, hang out, and develop patterns of social interactions—may be training grounds for domestic violence because behaviors conducted in public may provide license to proceed in private.

Since 2005, my more recent research with Bruce Taylor, of NORC, funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, has been in urban middle schools, with the youngest sample of 6th and 7th graders ever studied in a scientific, randomly controlled research project on teen dating violence. Our interventions, both school-wide and in the classroom, emphasize articulating and claiming one’s boundaries and personal space; never do we discuss “healthy relationships”—a perspective that I find subjective and judgmental yet seems to operate as the default approach to preventing teen dating violence. Happily, our data shows that our interventions are effective and we are currently expanding them to 8th graders and testing for longitudinal effects.

This year, as we raise awareness about teen dating violence and offer scientific approaches to prevention, we must continue to invest in evidence-based and evaluated programs with rigorous research that inform truly effective public policies.

Nan Stein, Ed.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she directs several national research projects on sexual harassment, and gender violence. Shifting Boundaries, her research project with Bruce Taylor, is an ongoing, multi-level study funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the effectiveness of grade-differentiated dating violence and sexual harassment prevention curricula.

1.)Healthy_Marriage_and_Responsible_Fatherhood_Grantees.pdf. January 23, 2013. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, an Office of the Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/resource/healthy-marriage-grantees

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The value of sports for career launch

Olympic-RingsThe value of sports for career launch

This will be the first time that female athletes are allowed to compete in ski jumping at the Olympics so it’s fitting that the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia open Thursday on the heels of National Girls and Women in Sports Day February 5th.

The satisfaction goes beyond the glow of victory after a long battle because access for female ski jumpers represents progress in the broader quest for gender equity. As in this case, athletics often carry meaning beyond the competition itself.

Sport is both a tool in the quest for political, social, and economic equality and a glass that magnifies the failings of fairness on a societal level. What happens on the field affects and reflects the world off the field (or the slope)-- and vice versa. The cascading events of the 1970s -- the rise of the women’s movement, passage of Title IX, and expanding sport and career opportunities-- express the relationship.

This is important, but well-trod territory. So three of us at WCW asked another question: How does this dynamic actually play out for the individual athlete?

Sports matter off the field, but precisely how do they matter? A study published in 2012 that drew data from polling alumni suggests a connection between college sports participation and higher earnings a decade after graduation. That data relies on a look back by those who had successfully navigated a career launch.

blogpullquote2.4But how do recruiters on the front-end value a varsity credential? Does sports participation in college, for example, offer access to enter a corporate career?

Given the widespread assumption that sports are a steppingstone to business success, we wanted to know: What qualities do recruiters look for in new graduates, how are sports experiences evaluated, and do athletes have an advantage when being screened for an initial interview? Do male and female, black and white candidates fare equally?

We asked human resource professionals experienced in recruitment to complete a detailed online survey in which they selected from a list of eight leadership attributes the top four they seek in candidates, rate candidate profiles based on those qualities, and rank-order candidates to invite for an interview.

Recruiters received randomly generated profiles that varied sex (signaled by first name), race (signaled by African-American–related extra-curricular activity or not), and leadership experience (athletic or non-athletic). Extracurricular activities were varied to reflect leadership experience in a non-athletic activity (such as Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper or representative to the Board of Trustees) or varsity athletic experience as either a top basketball or track athlete. Candidates had similar GPAs, majors, career interests, and research and work experiences.

Our findings showed that among the 828 recruiters who completed the survey, 72 percent identified “ability to work in a team” as among the top four attributes. Recruiters rated athletes over non-athletes on the ability to work in a team and being results-driven. This held true regardless of a candidate’s sex or the rater’s sex or involvement with athletics as a leisure pursuit. At the same time, athletes received lower ratings than non-athletes on organizational skills, critical thinking, follow-through on tasks, and transferable skills.

The results were surprising and interesting on a few levels. First, it was striking that female athletes got the same “credit” for participation as their male counterparts. Second, even as raters saw athletes as being the classic “team player” and driven to produce results, they seemed unaware of organization skills college athletes need to juggle academics with daily practice, travel, etc. Third, while critical thinking skills may not be explicitly required of athletes, the lower rating suggests a “dumb jock” stereotype at play given that all candidates had similar majors and GPAs. Raters also did not appear to recognize that the follow-through of athletic training and preparation, like a range of other skills, had transferrable value outside of sport.

What does this mean for the individual athlete?

The message is that even though it has nearly become a cliché for managers and corporate leaders to extoll the virtues of athletic participation, the recruiters who serve as gatekeepers screening resumes don’t see it – beyond the obvious “teamwork” credential. Our findings challenge athletes to better articulate just what they are learning on the sport field and how that can be translated off the field. Athletes also must address recruiter beliefs that they struggle with organization and critical thinking. They must also be explicit in describing how positive skills they hone in sport will be useful in the workplace.

Overall, there is notable good news. We found that female athletes received equal consideration as their male counterparts from raters selecting candidates for an interview. Yet, if the experience of playing a college sport builds skills that are valuable in the workplace, our results show that both male and female college athletes must better communicate that message to recruiters, who may have spent their college years in the stands.

Let the Games begin!

This article was contributed by Laura Pappano, Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. and Allison Tracy, Ph.D. Pappano, writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College, is an experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports. Research by Erkut, WCW associate director and senior research scientist, encompasses variations in the course of child and adult development. Tracy is a Senior Research Scientist and Methodologist at WCW, where she provides technical expertise in a wide range of statistical techniques used in the social sciences.

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Dispelling “violence against women and children” myths in human trafficking

handsreachingoutDispelling “violence against women and children” myths in human trafficking

New York Times columnist and anti-trafficking advocate Nicholas Kristof recently opened January’s Human Trafficking Awareness month with a Google+ Hangout entitled, “What does 2014 hold for the fight against modern-day slavery?” My answer is the need to dispel myths about sexual violence against women and children within the anti-trafficking movement so that we can all work effectively and sustainably toward ending exploitation. I hold little hope for truly ending human trafficking unless we understand the systemic nature of violence against women and children.

I strongly believe human trafficking and sexual slavery are a manifestation and continuation of interpersonal and systemic violence. For instance, the top two risk factors for sexual exploitation are a history of child sexual abuse and poverty. Yet, International Justice Mission founder and President Gary Haugen argued that an environment of impunity, not violence, is to blame:

[S]lavery is first and foremost a violent crime…and if you were to look at any other crime that would take place in our community that’s violent – let’s say rape – we would of course want to change those attitudes. We would of course want to make sure that the streets were well lit. We would want to make sure that women knew how to walk safely and avoid dangerous areas. But you would start, absolutely, that people who committed sexual assaults actually went to jail for it. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than go to jail for committing that violent crime.

BlogPullQuote124Utilizing such “rape myths” like the need for well-lit streets and women’s ability to walk safely perfectly illustrates Haugen’s limited understanding of sexual violence: the majority of sexual assault survivors know their assailants and most rapes occur at home.

“Law enforcement is absolutely a critical component,” said Rachel Lloyd, trafficking survivor and founder of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), “but it isn’t the only component…and it won’t be the thing that long-term changes the issue.”

We will not end human trafficking and slavery unless we understand the very nature of violence and how it permeates our culture. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the worst record of death from violence and child death from abuse and neglect. We have the second-highest incidence of child poverty. Estimates across various surveys suggest one in every four girls and one in four boys in this country are sexually abused, 90 percent of them by either a family member or someone they know and trust. We have created the “perfect storm” for trafficking.

We also must acknowledge how violence is perpetuated. We often overlook that most of the few exploiters who have been studied report a history of child sexual abuse. Men who buy sex also report histories of sexual abuse and describe themselves as “sex addicts.” Abused children can repeat the violation throughout their lives, often within gendered norms, according to trauma expert Bssel van der Kolk, M.D. Abused boys can re-victimize, thus fulfilling the masculine imperative of being dominant and in control, while abused girls can go on to form relational attachments with victimizing boys or men.

If we are to stop human trafficking we must prioritize healing the wounds of abused boys through comprehensive, trauma-informed care over jailing angry, isolated men who become traffickers. We must focus on ensuring abused girls have economic opportunity based on intellect rather than equating their worth with their bodies. I am not arguing we sympathize with offenders because they have been abused. However, I am saying that jailing exploiters and solicitors will not stop trafficking: cycles of child sexual abuse and poverty are the fuel that keeps the engine running. We need to empty the gas line.

Kate Price, M.A., project associate at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), is also a social scientist in the cultural construction of childhood. As a survivor of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), Price authored a chapter in the textbook, Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Europe, Latin America, North America, and Global (Lexington Books) and a JBMTI working paper, Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, examining CSEC through a Relational-Cultural Theory lens.


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Remembrance, Recognition, and Reconciliation

ReconciliationPhoto1Remembrance, Recognition, and Reconciliation

When Nelson Mandela died, many of us reflected on his efforts at reconciliation. We wondered how anyone who had endured nearly three decades of imprisonment and witnessed the denigration of his people could emerge from his cell and talk about reconciliation with his jailors. For example, when did he first think about taking this action? How long had it taken him to come to his decision? And how did he convince others this would be a worthy path to take? Think of the process involved. First we need to acknowledge our painful memories, then we need to take some form of action in recognizing (validating) those memories, and finally we have to engage those who hold responsibility for inflicting the pain.

These thoughts were with me in an immediate and personal way around the time Mandela died, when I took a trip to London and Berlin. In London, where I grew up, a close friend had become involved in events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport. Between 1938 and 1939, more than 10,000 children, mostly Jewish, were provided with visas to enter Britain. Parents made the decision to put their children on a train to England to prevent their extermination by the Nazis. They entrusted their children to strangers to save their lives, and most were never reunited. In 2003, a statue at Liverpool street station had been dedicated to the Kindertransport, depicting five children carrying small suitcases, a teddy bear, and a violin.

A few days after I arrived in London, over 250 people gathered at the statue for the 75th anniversary. I was there because my friend’s mother is BlogPullQuote1.20one of the few surviving ‘Kinder.’ It was a somber occasion, both a tribute to the courage of those who survived and the generosity of the (mostly non-Jewish) families that took these children into their homes and raised them.

The process of remembrance and recognition has been a long journey for many Kinder. Like other survivors of Nazi persecution many did not speak about their experiences for decades; but as they aged some felt compelled to tell their stories to family members and others. Organizations encourage such acts of remembrance, providing support so they can speak out and educate others. In 2013, this recognition was recently taken to another level when Prince Charles met and talked with surviving Kinder, and a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament commemorated the November 1938 debate that resulted in the Kindertransport.

Berlin was a different experience. Both my parents were born in Germany: my mother in Berlin, my father in Leipzig. As Jews they were lucky to escape to London before war broke out. I knew that except for one brother and his wife, my mother’s family did not survive. Eleven members were killed in Auschwitz, Riga, and Sobibor. Because the Nazis kept detailed records of their persecution and slaughter of Jews and others, I had been able during a previous visit to find the address in Berlin from which my grandmother had been taken (along with the date of transport, her destination, and the date of her murder). I was interested in placing a Stolperstein at this address.

A Stolperstein is a brass plaque, about the size of a small brick that is placed in the sidewalk next to the building from which a person was taken to a concentration camp and killed. It bears the simple facts recorded in the Nazi records: the person’s name, date of transport, destination, and date of murder. Stolper means to stumble, and the stones are raised to make them noticeable. They were the idea of performance artist, Gunter Demnig in 1996, and he is still responsible for making them. His intent was that their presence would remind people constantly as they go about their daily business of a past many of them would rather forget; and specifically, to name the people who perished. There are now about 6ooo in Berlin alone, and volunteers keep the stones clean and shiny. A month before my trip I had contacted a woman, Hannelore, who assists with these installations in the Schoeneberg neighborhood where my grandmother Marie Driesen had lived, and informed her I wanted to arrange for a Stolperstein for my grandmother.

ReconciliationPhoto2A week before my trip she informed me a Stolperstein for Marie Driesen was already in place, and that its installation had been arranged by a current owner of an apartment at the Schoeneberg address. Two weeks later my husband and I were warmly greeted by Hannelore and the owner, Baerbel. We looked at the Stolperstein in the sidewalk, and then sat at a table in Baerbel’s apartment and talked. We learned that around 1938, 37-39 Belziger Strasse had been designated as a Jewish building. This meant that all Jewish residents in the building were forced to take in other Jews as lodgers, and Jews from other buildings were forced to move into the apartments; measures that made it easier for them to be rounded up later. Baerbel, a retired geologist, had worked tirelessly to obtain documents on the 22 Jewish residents taken from that building, and she had a huge binder with files on each one. But she went further; she asked the 52 current residents to contribute to the cost of installing Stolperstein for them. Not a single person refused, and the installation had been filmed by local television.

Such installations are taking place all over Germany; and as families travel from abroad to gather round the stones they engage in conversation with strangers--neighbors and passersby--to remember, recognize, and, openly acknowledge this history and their loss. And yes, these steps approach reconciliation.

On the few previous occasions I have visited Germany I have felt very uncomfortable. This time I found a new respect for those who had the dedication and personal courage to take on the responsibilities of a previous generation. In the 1950s, the German government made a move towards reconciliation by paying nominal monetary restitution to victims’ families, and more recently has built museums and memorials. But the Stolperstein have grown out of the next generation’s sense of their nation’s shameful history. Its grassroots efforts profoundly affect local residents, entire neighborhoods, cities, and the nation; and they offer people like me a sense of gratitude and hope. I think that is a good definition of reconciliation.

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.


2539 Hits

A Different Kind of Resolution

2014ResolutionsA Different Kind of Resolution

This time of year, many people are thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. More often than not, these resolutions revolve around things we’d like to change in ourselves or our lives. But what about the things we’d like to change about our world--the things that are bigger than ourselves and our own individual lives? This year, I’m advocating for a different kind of resolution--a resolution to connect ourselves to “the change we’d like to see in the world” through direct action in areas we have the power to influence. I’m convinced that, if enough of us did this, we would turbo-charge not only efforts towards social justice but also human well-being on a vast scale. Are you ready to see where you can plug in??

Those of us who work at social change organizations, like us here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, perhaps have it easiest because our very livelihood depends on doing work that makes a difference in the world. Yet, even those of us who work in this arena need to recommit periodically--to our ideals and principles, to our social change goals, to the targets for change that we have set and to which we hold ourselves accountable. At WCW, we are using a strategic planning process to help us do this, which requires us both organizationally and individually to look at our work--which includes research, theory, and action programs--and its social change impact. Even those of us who have chosen social justice or human wellbeing as our lifework must periodically review, refresh, and reinvigorate.

blogpullquote1.6.13Just because we don’t all work for social change organizations, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t major ways we can make each a difference. What do you care about? What change would you like to see in the world? As great and necessary as organizations are in the social change equation, they are not the end-all and be-all. Individuals and small groups, even when they are working for change outside formal organizations, can make a monumental difference in outcomes for many through partnering, advocacy, endorsement, and financial support. As Margaret Mead once famously quipped, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Yet, the “power of one” is something to be reckoned with, too. We can look to history for inspiration. I would tell my students, for example, about an African-American “house slave” named Milla Granson who held a “midnight school” in her cabin each night to teach 12 fellow slaves how to read; once they learned, she took in 12 more--and did so for decades, until scores “forged their passes to freedom.” Can we imagine this kind of educational activism today? Just last week, I learned the story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who, during the Holocaust, without orders, wrote and distributed transit visas, sometimes working in collaboration with his wife for 18 hours per day, even overnight, to produce them. Today, scholars estimated that he saved about 6,000 Jews and that anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people are alive today because of the action he took. Both Milla Granson’s and Chiune Sugihara’s actions show us that there’s always something we can do, right from where we happen to be standing. So what are we waiting for?

All of us have some kind of expertise, passion, or resources that we can contribute to increasing social justice and human well-being in the world. It just takes a different kind of resolution. What will you resolve to do in 2014??

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

2346 Hits

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Women's Rights in 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Women's Rights in 2013

The following blog article was posted on Huffington Post, December 30, 2013 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

As we reflect on the events of 2013, I can't help but think of the Clint Eastwood classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

When it came to women's rights, there was indeed ugliness: more and more states tried to restrict women's access to basic reproductive health care, and in El Salvador, Glenda Cruz was sentenced to ten years in prison for miscarrying.

Despite these setbacks, there is reason for hope. Here's my wrap-up of the top five wins for sexual and reproductive rights in 2013:

1. The rape and murder of a 23 year-old woman in New Delhi set off widespread protests throughout India. In September, an Indian court sentenced the four perpetrators to death, stating that the crime "shocked the collective conscience of India."

"In these times when crimes against women are on the rise," said Judge Yogesh Khanna, "the court cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act." The significance of this statement condemning violence against women in the world's second most populous country cannot be understated at a time when one in three women worldwide will experience violence in their lifetimes.

2. In the Dominican Republic, the Catholic Church filed a legal complaint against our local partner Profamilia, claiming that its ad campaign on sexual rights violated the Constitution. In May, the Fifth Civil and Commercial Chamber of the National District rejected the Church's complaint as a violation of freedom of expression, adding that campaigns like Profamilia's help to promote comprehensive sexuality education and responsible parenthood. The public and media support for Profamilia during and after the case was massive, but it was not an easy battle.

3. As more states sought measures to tighten abortion laws, some fought to make it more accessible. In June, Texas senator Wendy Davis rose to national prominence during a 13-hour filibuster protesting SB5, a bill that would further restrict abortion access in Texas. While the legislation ultimately passed, a vigorous protest from Davis -- and supporters throughout the country -- was heard loud and clear. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure into law that allows nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physicians' assistants who complete specified training to perform abortions.

4. On August 15, the first session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development concluded as representatives of 38 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean adopted an historic agreement: the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development. At this meeting to assess progress towards implementing the Cairo Programme of Action, governments recognized the important connections between sexual and reproductive health and rights and the global development agenda. More than 250 members of civil society -- including IPPF/WHR and our Member Associations -- helped forge this victory. The Consensus is the first UN agreement to include a definition of sexual rights, "which embrace the right to a safe and full sex life, as well as the right to take free, informed, voluntary and responsible decisions on their sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, without coercion, discrimination or violence." With governments poised to adopt a new global development framework, this agreement will help ensure that sexual rights and reproductive rights remain at the center of efforts to reduce poverty and improve the well-being of individuals, communities and nations.

5. Perhaps the greatest "good" is the fact that despite fierce opposition, millions of women, men and young people throughout the world continue to fight to ensure that all people have access to quality healthcare and protection of their human rights. In 2012, we provided nearly 33 million services throughout the Americas and Caribbean with more than 75% of those services reaching poor and vulnerable populations. In a region where an estimated 95% of abortions take place in unsafe circumstances, the importance of access to contraception and accurate health information cannot be underestimated.

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

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